19 September, 2009

Your Daily Dose of Health Care Reform Stupidity

There are a few simple things that need to be done in order to ensure effective health care reform. First, the steaming pile of bullshit that is the Baucus giveaway needs improving. Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein (via Steve Benen) have some sensible suggestions on that front. Secondly, lawmakers need to realize that no matter how much they give to Cons, they will never win bipartisanship: note how they refused to take yes for an answer, and if any doubts remain as to their intentions, I direct Dems' attention to the fact that Rep. King just fulsomely praised Sen. Grassley for obstructing health care reform. Thirdly, once meaningful reform is passed, voters must never ever let the Cons get their hands back on the reins of power, because Rep. Price assures us that their first act shall be repealing reform.

For those who might be tempted to believe that this would be a fine thing because Cons will replace reform with something else, consider that Sen. Jon Kyl believes that the very model of health care reform is... Texas:

Using Texas as a model for health care is like using Iran as a model for elections. One out of every four Texans don't have medical insurance -- the highest rate in the nation. Texas has more uninsured children than any state. And if tort reform is the answer, why does Texas have some of the most notorious examples of how broken and expensive the current health care system is?

Genius plan, dumbass.

Arizona: when next this embarrassment comes up for re-election, I suggest you run him out of town. You're better than this.

In other reform news, it seems the Cons are doing their level best to beat Olympia Snowe into submission. Snowe, however, is unimpressed with their efforts:

Here's the latest development in the Snowestakes: Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) says that though she'd prefer health care reform legislation to have broader Republican support, she's not going to let her party dictate her vote on the issue.

"Obviously, I'm a Republican, but I'd like to have more Republicans," she told CNBC's John Harwood.

But asked whether having more Republicans is a requirement, she said, pointedly, "no...I'm going to support the right policy."

One gets the feeling from her recent statements that if Cons give her the choice of their way or the highway, she shall inform them she's choosing highway. I don't think she's very pleased with what her party has become. I wonder if they'll drive her to pull a Specter? Now, that would be interesting - especially as it could give Dems 61 votes if Massachusetts actually appoints an interim senator.

Can you imagine the howl from the right? Nothing will make me happier.

Well, except for this:

John Conyers and some allies on the House Judiciary Committee have come up with a fabulous way to get the insurance industry in line - by threatening to remove their anti-trust exemption.

Many people don't know that the insurance industry, under the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945, has a broad anti-trust exemption that facilitates regional monopolies. The Act allows states to regulate the insurance business instead of the federal government, but also allows that, as long as the state regulates the industry, federal anti-trust laws would not apply.

As a result of this exemption, states have seen markets for health insurance where one or two companies predominate.


The point is that the concentration of the health insurance market among regional monopolies leads to higher costs for consumers, almost by definition. What the legislation by Conyers (D-MI), Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) would do is end that anti-trust exemption for health insurers, allowing for enforcement in all of these highly concentrated markets. The Senate has companion legislation:

“This legislation would specifically prohibit price fixing, bid rigging, and market allocation in the health insurance industry,” said Conyers. “These pernicious practices are detrimental to competition and result in higher prices for consumers. Conduct that is unlawful throughout the country should not be allowed for insurance companies under antitrust exemption. The House Judiciary Committee held extensive hearings on the effects of the insurance industry’s antitrust exemption throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. It became clear then that policyholders and the economy in general would benefit from eliminating this exemption.

“The legislation we introduced today is intended to root out unlawful activity in an industry grown complacent by decades of protection from antitrust oversight. In doing so, we aim to make health insurance more affordable to more Americans. I want to thank my friend Senator Leahy for his leadership on the bill and for working with the House on this joint introduction.”

Many of the actions taken by the insurance industry over the years simply violate federal law. Repealing their anti-trust exemption would force the industry to end their criminal ways or face punishment. As a companion to insurance regulations designed to lower prices for consumers, but perhaps without the kind of enforcement necessary to maintain it, I couldn't think of anything better. And if nothing else, this legislation is a powerful whip to keep the industry in line as they try to extract more perks from the health care bill. Combine this with the multiple investigations into industry practices from Dennis Kucinich, Henry Waxman and others, and you have real pressure on the industry for the first time in a while.

It couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch of buffoons.

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