Monday, October 12, 2009

Health Care: Whither the HMO Bailout?

So the big news today is that the HMOs are backing out of the deal they supposedly made with President Obama and Sen. Max Baucus (D?-Insurance Industry). So why am I not crying over it? Let me explain.

First, they were never really planning to support any version of health care reform. Rather, the HMOs only wanted to ensure that whatever legislation is passed is so weakened that it will never really hurt them.

Oh, and they really wanted a bailout in the form of subsidies and individual mandates to force people to buy HMO plans without facing any competition from a public health insurance option or any real regulations to curb such despicable practices as fabricating "pre-existing conditions" to deny people care or artificially hold up premiums. Apparently, Chuck Schumer's plan really scared them.

Sen. Chuck Schumer has been working to actively cripple or destroy the individual mandate. An amendment offered in the Senate Finance Committee by Schumer and Snowe reduced the penalty for not buying health insurance, and slowly phased in the penalty over several years. It also reduced the threshold at which a person could apply for a hardship waiver to avoid paying the penalty for not having insurance.

That was only step one in Schumer’s attempt to water down the individual mandate. Last Thursday, Schumer made a barely covered announcement that he would seek to further weaken the individual mandate. The penalty collected from people for not having insurance would be placed in a trust fund instead of going directly to the government. Individuals would have up to three years to use the full penalty collected from them to buy insurance.

This three-year trust fund is just asking to be “abused.” It would create a strong incentive for younger people to wait until they got sick to buy health insurance. They could skip having insurance for up to three years without “losing” any money due to the individual mandate penalty. This is exactly the scenario that AHIP is desperate to avoid. If there is to be any Republican support for health care reform, and with progressives threatening to go to war if there is an individual mandate without a public option, it is very likely we’ll see the individual mandate continue to be weakened as the bill moves forward.

Heh. It's about damn time that Democrats wisen up! Again, the HMOs are NOT interested in "reform". All they care about are their profits, so why did The White House let Baucus take the lead in doing everything possible to appease them only for them to still say that Baucus' insurance industry bailout plan isn't enough? Why shouldn't Obama just realize that these same companies that deem infants "obese" to deny them coverage aren't acting in the public's interest?

So maybe instead of doing everything possible to win over the giant corporate interests that will never back real reform, perhaps The White House needs to focus more on mending fences with the progressive grassroots/netroots that helped elect Obama President and who will be key in building support for health care. Last I checked, the "left of the left" fringe seems to be advocating for what the strong majority of Americans want to see out of health care reform.

Yes, this is why I'm not crying over the apparent death of "Baucus Care". It was a flawed plan to start with, and the HMOs would never really carry water for it despite their original assurances to him and Obama. It's time for Democrats to remember whose side they're supposed to be on, who's really on their side, and what they're supposed to be fighting for.


  1. Any mandate is unconstitutional, not to mention counterproductive. The US government cannot force me to carry health insurance any more than it can force me to carry auto insurance. If a state wants to mandate such things, that is well within their rights and powers, but the federal government needs to find a way to make it happen the old fashioned way if they want it to happen. That's holding a carrot, aka cash, in front of the states to get their way. That's why we all have to wait until we're 21 to drink, and many other non-federal issues that get forced on us by our federal government. I know President Obama feels he needs to get this done at a federal level, but mandates can come from the states and be just as effective if not more so.

  2. I guess we agree on something, bwpolitics. Heh. While I'm not so sure about the individual mandate being unconstitutional (after all, the government issues mandates on so many other things), I do agree that it may be counterproductive, especially if offered alone without real choices like the public option. There's just no reason to force us to just hand over our money to the HMOs.