On Sunday's political talk shows, journalists and others who purport to have the inside scoop on the progress of health care reform in Congress said the White House – that is, President Obama – prefers the “trigger” style of public option.
That's Senator Olympia Snowe's idea – to kick the can of the public option down the road leaving the status of health care in the U.S. pretty much quo, and guaranteeing that the market requirements (trigger) for a public option to go into effect will never be met.
That's what happened with the Medicare prescription drug plan, Part D. Not many people know that a trigger was included in that legislation. But the pharmaceutical industry wrote the Part D bill and set the bar for a prescription drug public option so high that it has never been met.
Never met, even though premiums for many of next year's Part D coverage plans have doubled (mine has), deductibles have been added (mine has) or increased and some insurance companies have switched to co-insurance (mine has) which is more expensive for insureds than co-pays and many co-pays have increased (mine have). All this even though there will be no COLA increase for Social Security beneficiaries in 2010.
And, as I reported last week, the premiums for two of the most popular Part D plans have increased dramatically since the prescription drug program went into effect in 2006: AARP has doubled; Humana PDP Enhanced has tripled – in only three years.
Medicare Part D, then, is a good template for health care reform with the trigger, certain to please the health care industry. Trust me, THERE WILL NEVER BE A PUBLIC OPTION if a trigger is included in the reform bill, and therefore no way to control the prices of coverage from private insurers.
But that is the intention of Congress, isn't it – to try to fool the public into believing they are doing something that will benefit voters, while further lining the pockets of the health industry and in the process, lining their own pockets.
After watching the Sunday shows, I wondered how much Congress members have collected so far from the health industry for their upcoming elections. Relying on opensecrets.org, I checked donations to representatives and senators who have often been in the news during the health care debate of the past few months.
The amounts below are contributions from the industry in parentheses (which are OpenSecret's designations) and are as of 30 September 2009. The industry is the number 1 largest contributor to each legislator unless otherwise noted. An asterisk indicates the senator is up for re-election next year. All representatives are up for re-election.
Make what you will of this:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi *
$134.8K (health professionals)
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer *
$250.5K (health professionals #1, insurance #4 )
House Minority Leader John Boehner *
$272.9 (insurance #1, pharma #3)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid *
(no health-related donations in top 5)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
$795.8 (health professionals #5 contributor)
Senator Charles Schumer *
$261.3 (insurance #4)
Senator Olympia Snowe *
$175K (health professionals #2)
Senator Susan Collins
$400K (health professionals #4)
Representative John Weiner *
(no health-related donors in top five)
Senator Jay Rockefeller *
$268.4K (health professionals #2)
Senator Max Baucus
$2.32million (health professionals #2, pharma #3, insurance #5)
Senator Chris Dodd
$1.4million (insurance #3)
[You can find contribution information for any member of Congress on this page at OpenSecrets.]
This is hard to say publicly, but I become more discouraged every day about there being a robust and meaningful health care reform bill. Between triggers and opt out for states, Congress seems to be doing everything possible to negate a public option and without it, there will be no reform. And without reform, health care costs will ruin the economy in less than a decade.
It could have been so simple. A single-payer system – Medicare for all - would fold everyone into the same risk pool spreading costs over all 300 million-plus citizens. There are examples and history of it working well in every industrialized democracy in the world. But President Obama took that option off the table before the debate even began.
What was he thinking? I'm afraid it wasn't the public.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mort Reichek: How I Almost Became a Texas