Pull the plug on the climate change bill

Few problems require federal action more urgently than global warming. I admire the members of Congress who have been trying to address this issue. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman tried to get the best deal he could. Senator John Kerry has tried to keep things moving in the upper chamber. Senator Lindsey Graham is getting tons of grief from fellow Republicans because he admits that climate change is a problem.

I want to support these people and their efforts to get a bill on the president’s desk. Unfortunately, the time has come to accept that Congress is too influenced by corporate interests to deal with climate change in any serious way. Pretending to fight global warming won’t solve the problem and may even be counter-productive.

This depressing post continues after the jump.

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Waxman to turn spotlight on insurance industry

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman is ready to shine a light on the health insurance industry’s business practices, according to this piece by Bill Boyarsky at Truthdig:

Waxman has already begun by demanding that major insurance companies reveal how much they pay top executives and board members and, most important, the size of their profits from selling policies. […]

I asked Waxman whether he expected the insurance companies to reply to his letters. “Oh yes,” he said. “When we write letters, we expect to get answers.” And what was his purpose in seeking the information? At first, he was reluctant to discuss the investigation. Finally, he gave a guarded reply: that many folks perhaps take too benign a view of private insurance companies. […]

The letters from Waxman and his colleague, Bart Stupak, chairman of the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, went to every major insurance company, ranging from Aetna to Wellpoint. The lawmakers want to know the pay, stock options, perks, incentives, and retirement and other financial information of executives earning more than $500,000 a year. They are curious about the cost of promotional junkets. They are seeking disclosure of premiums, revenue, claims payments and sales expenses for health insurance policies. This includes sales to employers, individuals and the government. Interestingly, while insurance companies rail against the federal government, they earn money from participating in a number of federal programs, such as Medicare.

David Mizner has more on why this is important.

Speaking of insurance industry practices, Froma Harrop of the Providence Journal wrote a powerful column last week on the “death panel” her late husband faced from their insurance company, United Healthcare, after he was diagnosed with liver cancer.

A United Healthcare subsidiary owns the Lewin Group, which has been putting out so-called “non-partisan” research to discredit the idea of a public health insurance option.

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The Insurer's Drop List keeps growing ...

(Thanks to jamess for this important diary. For a first-person account of another way some insurance companies respond to serious illnesses, read How I lost my health insurance at the hairstylist's. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

As you may have learned last week from LA Times reporting, and from Congressional Hearings, that Insurance companies routinely try to drop your Insurance policy, if you happen to get one of their “Hot List” illnesses.

Getting any of these illnesses, can Trigger the Insurance Company’s “Cancellation Police”, into action.

Denial Specialists scour your medical history, and cross-check that against your application, looking for any reason to Cancel, or rescind, your Insurance policy, thus saving the Insurance Company untold thousands in future payments for your expected Care. Denial Specialists, of course, earn bonuses for each Policy they cancel. What a system!

Those 4 illnesses (out of the 1000+ such Triggers) previously disclosed are:

breast cancer, high blood pressure, lymphoma and pregnancy

Well thanks to the tough questioning of the Oversight and Investigations Sub Committee, at least 2 more Triggering Illnesses have been disclosed, as indicated in the video and transcript of the Hearing:

The 2 other newly disclosed “Drop List” illnesses include:

ovarian cancer, and brain cancer

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High-risk play by Braley yields big reward for Iowa

Representative Bruce Braley was an active and vocal supporter of Henry Waxman’s effort to replace John Dingell as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It was risky for a second-term member of Congress to speak out against someone as powerful as Dingell. At the time, many people (myself included) believed Waxman would not win the Democratic caucus vote.

Now Braley has gained a spot on Waxman’s committee:

The appointment, announced Thursday, to what is considered one of the House’s most coveted committees points to a quick rise for the Waterloo lawyer entering just his second term.

It also amplifies Iowans’ voice regarding a vast spectrum of federal economic policy during stormy times.

“Every state wants someone from their delegation on the committee, and having Congressman Braley on this committee is a positive thing for the state so that the state’s interests are reflected in the deliberations of the committee,” said Tom Tauke, a former Republican congressman who served on the committee prior to leaving office in 1991. […]

The committee is the first stop in the House for such nationally significant legislation as the comprehensive health care reform that Obama discussed Thursday. It will also be the entry point for the new administration’s priority of increasing renewable energy and reducing global warming.

The committee will consider the wind-energy tax credit next year. The tax credit, expected to be renewed for seven years, has been a boon to Iowa, one of the nation’s leaders in wind-generated electricity.

I expect good things to come out of Energy and Commerce under Waxman’s leadership, and having an Iowan on that committee is a nice bonus.

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CATO reveals the GOP's dirty little secret on health care

Jed L brought something remarkable to my attention over the weekend.

Michael Cannon of the conservative CATO Institute wrote a piece called Blocking Obama’s Health Plan Is Key to the GOP’s Survival. The idea is that if Obama gets universal health care passed, he will bring “reluctant voters” into the Democratic coalition. The Republicans must at all costs provent that from happening.

David Sirota and TomP both pointed out that conservative pundit William Kristol made the same case to Congressional Republicans during Bill Clinton’s first term. At first, some were afraid to be seen as obstructing the president’s health care reform efforts. But in December 1993,

Leading conservative operative William Kristol privately circulates a strategy document to Republicans in Congress. Kristol writes that congressional Republicans should work to “kill” — not amend — the Clinton plan because it presents a real danger to the Republican future: Its passage will give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party. Nearly a full year before Republicans will unite behind the “Contract With America,” Kristol has provided the rationale and the steel for them to achieve their aims of winning control of Congress and becoming America’s majority party. Killing health care will serve both ends. The timing of the memo dovetails with a growing private consensus among Republicans that all-out opposition to the Clinton plan is in their best political interest. Until the memo surfaces, most opponents prefer behind-the-scenes warfare largely shielded from public view. The boldness of Kristol’s strategy signals a new turn in the battle. Not only is it politically acceptable to criticize the Clinton plan on policy grounds, it is also politically advantageous. By the end of 1993, blocking reform poses little risk as the public becomes increasingly fearful of what it has heard about the Clinton plan.

Getting back to Cannon’s recent piece for CATO, I am struck by how conservatives don’t even believe their own propaganda about the horrors of “socialized medicine.” Yes, I know that Obama isn’t proposing socialized medicine (which would work like the Veterans Administration, where the government employs the doctors and runs the hospitals), or even single-payer health care (as in Medicare, where patients choose the doctor but the government pays the bill). But for the moment, let’s accept CATO’s frame on this issue, which is that Obama’s health plan would turn into socialized medicine.

Obama’s plan would presumably allow Americans to buy into a state-run health insurance plan as an alternative to private health insurance, and would prohibit insurers from excluding people with pre-existing conditions. These measures would force the insurance companies to compete for customers by offering better coverage, as opposed to the current system, in which they try to maximize profits by denying care whenever possible, and sometimes refusing to insure people for any price.

I have a friend with a thyroid condition. At one point her husband was between jobs and they looked into buying their own health insurance. They could not find any company that would take their family. It wasn’t a matter of excluding coverage for anything related to my friend’s thyroid condition. They simply declined to sell insurance to this family at any cost. Fortunately, my friend’s husband got a job with good benefits. Otherwise, they would be uninsured to this day.

The benefit of giving families like my friend’s the option of buying into state-run insurance program is obvious. But let’s assume that conservatives are right, and that any state-run insurance scheme is bound to be expensive and inefficient. If that’s the case, wouldn’t it fail in the marketplace?

Obama’s health care plan could evolve in the direction of single-payer health care only if the government insurance plan provided superior coverage to consumers at a lower cost. CATO shouldn’t be worried about this, right?

Let’s go a step further. Conservative pundits are trying to tell us that Democratic health care proposals would be disastrous for the country and wreck the economy. If that’s true, then why is a CATO analyst worried that enacting Obama’s health care plan would cause a political realignment in the Democrats’ favor?

Cannon’s argument is also shocking on a moral level. He appears to believe that Obama’s health care plan would improve so many Americans’ lives that the GOP’s survival would be threatened. So, he urges Republicans to put their own political interests ahead of the interests of Americans currently lacking adequate health care.

Jed L thinks

Cannon has everything backwards: the GOP’s survival depends on Republicans being part of the solution instead of being part of the problem.

I have to admit that here I agree more with Cannon. Republicans would not get much credit for helping to pass Obama’s universal health care plan. Everyone would know it was a Democratic president with a Democratic Congress who delivered on that promise.

Obstruction with the goal of making Obama look like an ineffective leader in tough economic times is probably the Republicans’ best hope of making political gains.

I am cautiously optimistic that Congress will be more open to adopting Obama’s agenda than the Democratic-controlled Congress was for Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1994. We’ve got at least two things going for us: Obama’s Health and Human Services secretary will be Tom Daschle, who knows the inner workings of Congress, and Henry Waxman (not John Dingell) will be running the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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