Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Baucus Bill Is Far Short of Real Health Care Reform

September 17th, 2009 | Mike Hall

The Senate Finance Committee’s health care reform proposal released this morning falls far short of the comprehensive reform that would provide working families with the quality and affordable health they desperately need, say health care advocates.

In a statement this morning, outgoing AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says the bill

“fails to meet the most basic health care needs of working families and it fails to meet the expectations we have set for our nation.”

The labor leaders say the Finance Committee bill’s reliance on so-called health care co-ops as an alternative to a public option

fails to put pressure on private insurers to control health care costs. There is no history or logic behind the claim that health care co-ops would provide real competition for the giant private insurers that have a stranglehold on health coverage today.

While the bill’s main author, committee chairman Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), spent weeks trying to win some moderate Republican backing for the plan, not a single GOP senator has endorsed it. One key Finance Committee Democrat has already announced he will oppose the Baucus bill unless significant changes are made.

Along with dropping the public health insurance option-which is part of the House bill (H.R. 3200) and the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pension (HELP) committee bill-the Baucus bill also taxes some health plans and individuals who fail to buy private insurance, while providing no penalties to irresponsible employers who do not provide coverage.

While taxing group plans that may have higher costs because the plans cover older workers, workers with worse than average health histories or who simply live in higher cost areas, it imposes no taxes high cost individual plans.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), a long-time advocate of health care reform, says because the bill abandons the public health insurance option-among other objections–

there is no way in present form I will vote for it. Therefore, I will not vote for it unless it changes during the amendment process by vast amounts… I am putting down a marker, which I think others should put down, too, who might feel the same way I do.

There are, some provisions in the bill that do provide important insurance industry reforms and improvements in how health care is delivered and paid for with a focus on quality over quantity. But say the AFL-CIO leaders

But the proposal’s strong points are nowhere near sufficient to outweigh its problems. However well intentioned the attempts at bipartisanship, the final product reflects the bankrupt policies of the past more than the forward-looking policies needed to drive meaningful health care reform.

We are counting on finance committee Democrats to fix the bill and side with working families, not insurance companies.

The Finance Committee is scheduled to begin mark-up of the bill-when improving amendments can added-next week. The Senate HELP committee has approved its version and action on the House legislation is expected later this month.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL-CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. He carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He’s also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold blood plasma, and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.

This article was originally published in AFL-CIO blog on September 16, 2009. Re-printed with permission from the author.

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