Is The Healthy Americans Act a Basis for Compromise?
Few people have spent as much time talking up the benefits of Sen. Ron Wyden's (D-Ore.) Healthy Americans Act as I have. It's a genuinely good bill with a good Congressional Budget Office score and an innovative approach. I would support it, or at least something close to it, over anything on the table today. But contrary to what David Brooks implies in his column yesterday, the 14 bipartisan co-sponsors are not a reason to assume the bill's viability. Contained among the 14 supporters are precious few votes. Take the statement Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) released when he signed on as a co-sponsor:
“With health care reform so urgently needed, this plan is a good alternative to those being offered that push us toward a system based on expansive government control, which will eventually lead to rationing, a reduction in quality of care, and increased health care spending. I still have some serious concerns about several elements of this plan, including the imposition of mandates; subsidies for higher income individuals; the impact on current market competition; the FDA labeling language regarding comparative effectiveness studies; and the issue of how to determine the appropriate level of coverage offered as part of a health care reform regime. However, it is important that Congress and the Administration work toward bipartisan solutions to this crisis that threatens the health care of millions of Americans.”
In other words, what Gregg supports is not the provisions of the bill but the fact of its bipartisanship. He supports the process but appears to oppose critical elements of the legislation. Or take this exchange Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) had on Meet the Press:
MR. GREGORY: Do you support taxing the value of, the value of employer-provided health care for workers?
SEN. SPECTER: No, I'd be very reluctant to do that. Health care provided by employers, which is deductible for them and not added on as income to the recipient, has been the mainstay of health coverage for millions of Americans, and I'd be very reluctant to abandon that.
MR. GREGORY: So the health care reform you would like to see is what?
SEN. SPECTER: I would, I would like to see all Americans covered. I've joined with the Wyden-Bennett plan, has 14 co-sponsors. I would like to see health care which emphasizes exercise and diet and, and makes premiums lower on that basis
The central financing feature of the Wyden-Bennett plan is that it ends, entirely, the tax break for employer-provided health care. I heard Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican from Tennessee, lavishly praise the bill at a press conference one morning. The next year, he dropped off as a co-sponsor.
It would be nice if there were seven Republican votes sitting ready to sign onto the Healthy Americans Act. That would make it an excellent potential compromise. But having followed this legislation for years now, I've seen no evidence of that fact. Instead, Republicans sign on with the caveat that they oppose the things the bill actually says it will do, but support the general idea that Republicans should be consulted on health care reform. Indeed, the lesson of the Healthy Americans Act, as I've seen it, has been that there are a lot of Republican votes for the appearance of being for something on health reform. But there aren't many Republican votes for actual health reform.
June 24, 2009; 1:03 PM ET
Categories: Health Reform For Beginners
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