The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 06, 2009

News Briefs

By The Building Tradesman

Public health option revived, for now

WASHINGTON (PAI) – Labor’s strong campaign for comprehensive universal affordable health care racked up a preliminary win on Oct. 26 as congressional leaders inserted the “public option” – the government-run plan to compete with the insurance companies – into health care bills headed for lawmakers’ full debate.

The key victory came in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Oct. 26 overrode the conservative Senate Finance Committee’s bill and inserted a public option plan into the legislation he and other leaders are drafting behind closed doors.  The version he included, designed to appeal to some possible swing-vote Republicans, would let states opt out of the national public option plan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., unveiled her chamber’s bill on Oct. 29, also with a public option. 

“The best way to restrain health care costs is to have the public option,” AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka declared.  “If you don’t have it, you guarantee the insurance companies 40 million new customers” – because most of the bills would order everyone to get health insurance –  “at their rates,” not the lower rates the government-run public option could command.

“The more potent the public option is, the more you create competition” with the insurers, he added.

The public option, thought dead after Right-Wing-organized disruptions against it during the August congressional recess, has revived – for now.  Unions launched a counter-campaign for it, non-partisan congressional auditors reported it would produce the most savings from rising health care costs and the insurers released a slanted study opposing it.  The insurance industry lost credibility in Congress and the country.

The Finance Committee bill tackled the problem of how to pay the $900 billion 10-year cost of making health care virtually universal, covering everyone except undocumented workers.  That legislation proposes taxing health insurance policies worth more than $8,000 yearly to individuals and $21,000 yearly to families. The idea of taxing workers’ benefits is still alive and that’s still a key cause – and potential deal breaker – for unions and their members.

And that’s hardly the only potential deal breaker. While an easy majority of the House supports the public option, in the Senate, there may be enough Democrats to pass the 50-vote majority threshold, but there are not enough to get to the filibuster-proof 60 votes. So far every Republican senator has disavowed the public option, and moderate Democrats are hardly on board with the concept. In fact, last week, Sen. Joe Lieberman, (D-Conn.) threatened to lead the filibuster effort if a public option is included.

“I can't see a way in which I can vote for cloture on any bill that contained a creation of a government-operated and run insurance company," the Connecticut senator said. "It's just asking for trouble.”