An Era Ends

Highlights

The Liberal Lion: Sen. Kennedy was both respected and liked by colleagues on both sides of the aisle during his remarkable 47 years in the Senate.

While he always was firm in his liberal views and we seldom agreed with him, Sen. Kennedy did listen to his Republican colleagues and worked to forge compromises. That bipartisan spirit has been markedly missing during his absence from the Senate this year. The health reform legislation making its way through Congress is rigid and aggressively liberal, without any evidence of bipartisanship, and it is rightly facing a firestorm of opposition.

Sen. Robert Byrd has asked that the bill be named after Sen. Kennedy in hopes that will revitalize its chances of passage. But I think it is too late. The American people understand the huge impact this legislation would have on the lives of 300 million Americans, and they are not going to be swayed by sentiment. The debate will continue.

 

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What other senators are saying: Shortly before Sen. Kennedy's death, Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin told a large crowd at a town hall meeting that there would likely be no health care bill before the end of the year — and perhaps not at all.

While that is not the outcome Sen. Feingold said he wants, the prospect of having no health reform legislation brought a burst of applause from the standing-room only audience.

"Nobody is going to bring a bill before Christmas, and maybe not even then, if this ever happens," Feingold said. "The divisions are so deep. I never seen anything like that."

Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Independent who votes with the Democrats, said basically the same thing on the Sunday talk shows. He said his colleagues need to go slow and take smaller steps.

And Sen. John McCain said during an interview with Sean Hannity that he has "never" seen anything like the "peaceful revolution taking place" in opposition to President Obama's push for health reform.

"There is a grass-roots uprising the likes of which I have never seen," he said. "There's anger; there's concern about the future. There's concern about the generational theft that we've committed by running up unconscionable and unsustainable deficits."

The Democratic leadership may invoke Sen. Kennedy's name to try to keep their own members in line, but it's just impossible to see how they could justify shoving this unpopular bill through with votes only from Democrats and only a few hours of floor debate, as Sen. Reid is threatening. The public would revolt.

 

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Shouting for reform: But advocates of reform are not giving up. In fact, they are accelerating their campaign.

The Democratic National Committee and its allied groups have announced plans to hold hundreds of events around the country before Congress returns to Washington on Sept. 8. It's an effort to counter the impact of town hall meetings held across the country that Sen. McCain described.

The events will range from phone banks and community meetings to professionally staffed rallies where pro-reform advocates are bused in. The SEIU hosted one such event — a rally featuring Democratic Rep. Jim Moran in Reston, VA outside Washington, D.C. on Tuesday night.

The Moran rally was evidence of what is really going on. Many of those cheering for ObamaCare and a public plan had indeed been bused in, shouting chants and waving pre-printed signs.

That is a dramatic contrast to the town hall meetings I've attended outside Washington filled with citizens who have taken time to drive in, sometimes making their own hand-lettered signs. I saw no busses or community organizers. People came of their own volition to let their representatives know how concerned they are about Washington's big spending and their fears about government domination of the health sector.

It is frankly infuriating to me that Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid call them "un-American," "angry mobs," and "evil-mongers." These are citizens who care about America, and this kind of name calling has no place in American politics.

 

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Utah leads in innovation: So it was refreshing to come out West this week to witness the launch of a positive new state-based program.

The State of Utah has created a health exchange to facilitate access to health insurance for small business employees, proving that 1) state flexibility is vital in health reform, and 2) that we absolutely, positively don't need the new federal "public plan" that Speaker Pelosi continues to demand.

Several of us from the Washington policy community, including Merrill Matthews, Jim Capretta, and me, were invited to Salt Lake City to speak at a conference yesterday about the Utah Health Exchange — the brainchild of House Speaker David Clark who was a driving force in creating it.

The exchange is run by just two (that's right, two) Utah officials, with almost no new taxpayer money. It is basically an Internet-based "switching station" that allows employers to offer a defined contribution for health insurance to their workers. Employees can then use the money to choose from a range of private coverage options, from HSAs to HMOs, which they can purchase with pre-tax dollars and combine with money from a spouse's employer or other funds. Newly inaugurated Gov. Gary Herbert spoke at the conference in praise of the program.

My big fear is that innovative ideas like this would be annihilated by the heavy-handed, top-down, legislative monstrosity making its way through Congress. The Utah exchange is a market-based solution to help small businesses offer more affordable health insurance, and public and private officials have been working together for several years to get it right. The nuances and complexities of developing this program are significant and take into account the resources and challenges unique to Utah. There is absolutely no way Washington could come up with this.

I was interviewed by the local Fox affiliate about the program, and you can watch the clip here.

I'm now in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, for a talk to the 2009 Inaugural Freedom Conference of the Steamboat Institute. . .where we continue the fight for freedom!

Grace-Marie Turner

Recent News Articles and Studies

The Public Health Insurance Option: Unfair Competition on a Tilting Field
Health Care: The Tide Has Shifted
Health Care Chat
Here's Why the Public Plan Won't Work
Illegal Health Reform
A Route to Sensible Health Care?
Obamacare Could Cost You $4,000 a Year
O's Rx: Break It
How Free Health Care Got So Expensive
Poll Patrol
Cooperatives' Record Weighed in Health-Care Debate
Healthcare Struggle Is About Freedom
Bay State Health Insurance Premiums Highest in Country

GALEN IN THE NEWS

The Public Health Insurance Option: Unfair Competition on a Tilting Field
John S. Hoff, Galen Institute
The Heritage Foundation, 08/26/09

Contrary to advocates' claims, America's Affordable Health Choices Act would not create a level playing field on which the government health insurance plan would compete fairly with private plans, writes Hoff, a trustee and founding board member of the Galen Institute. Unlike private plans, the government plan would be exempt from a broad variety of federal and state requirements, such as taxes, antitrust laws, and licensing requirements. Further, the government plan would benefit from the imprimatur of the federal government, which can change the rules of the game by passing a law or bail out the plan with taxpayers' money if it becomes insolvent. Hoff concludes the government plan would be heavily favored, leading to the marginalization of the private insurance market and the creation of a de facto single-payer insurance system — a nationalized health system much like those in Europe and Canada.

Health Care: The Tide Has Shifted
Grace-Marie Turner, Galen Institute
National Review Online: Critical Condition, 08/26/09

Health reform advocates are organizing their own rallies and phone banks to counter the town hall meetings that have dominated the news in August as citizens voice their opposition to legislation Congress is considering. The White House still doesn't seem to get it that it's the substance of the legislation, not merely its messaging, that is the core of the problem, Turner writes. The White House keeps trying to change the sales pitch, but the real problem is what the one-thousand page bill would do to radically transform one-sixth of our economy and put our health sector under government and political control.

Health Care Chat
Grace-Marie Turner, Galen Institute
Green Bay Press-Gazette, 08/18/09

Grace-Marie Turner participated in an online chat on a wide range of health reform issues, sponsored by the Green Bay Press-Gazette. A transcript of the chat is available here and additional questions and answers are available here.

MORE ON HEALTH REFORM

Here's Why the Public Plan Won't Work
Joseph R. Antos and Jeet Guram, American Enterprise Institute
The American, 08/27/09

Democrats are about to find out that Republicans have been correct on at least one aspect of our health insurance system, Antos and Guram write. Regulatory barriers must be lowered if we expect to have competition among insurers. The House bill trades 50 sets of state regulations for federal regulations that are even more restrictive. The uniform set of federal rules outlined in the bill raises the cost of insurance and dampens competition in the market. Subsidies and the authority to dictate prices would give the public plan an unfair advantage. We can have a public plan or we can have competition, but we cannot have both.

Illegal Health Reform
David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey, Baker Hostetler LLP
The Washington Post, 08/22/09

Can Congress require every American to buy health insurance? In short, no, write two attorneys who served in the Justice Department under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. The Constitution assigns only limited, enumerated powers to Congress, and none, including the power to regulate interstate commerce or to impose taxes, would support a federal mandate requiring anyone who is otherwise without health insurance to buy it. Advocates of universal health coverage must accept that Congress's power, like that of the other branches, has limits. These limits apply regardless of how important the issue may be, and neither Congress nor the president can take constitutional short cuts. The genius of our system is that, no matter how convinced our elected officials may be that certain measures are in the public interest, their goals can be accomplished only in accord with the powers and processes the Constitution mandates, processes that inevitably make them accountable to the American people.

A Route to Sensible Health Care?
Earl L. Grinols, Baylor University
Galen Institute, 08/24/09

Americans have expressed their displeasure with the House and Senate health care bills because both contain bad economics and bad ideas, writes Grinols, distinguished professor of economics at Baylor University and former senior economist for the President's Council of Economic Advisors. Why does extending good insurance coverage to all Americans require socializing American medicine, reducing doctors to having the state look over their shoulders, and telling our seniors that the nature of their care is conditional on the number of quality life years remaining to them? The only known reliable self-enforcing mechanism to keep costs low is robust competition. In Congress's case, their plans for health insurance and medicine move costs in the wrong direction by raising overhead costs and the costs of practicing medicine.

Obamacare Could Cost You $4,000 a Year
Shawn Tully
CNNMoney.com, 08/24/09

Assuming the public option is dropped, would middle-class Americans be better off with their existing plans or under the new regime? The conclusion is shocking, Tully writes. Middle- and upper-middle class Americans could face an enormous increase in their premiums. The hit could easily approach $4,000 for someone earning less than $90,000 — or more than double that increase as soon as the worker's pay hits six figures. That's because Obama's plan would collect hundreds of billions of dollars in new taxes at the expense of medium earners, and re-channel the money into subsidies for the uninsured, low-income workers, and union retirees over age 55.

O's Rx: Break It
Sally C. Pipes, Pacific Research Institute
New York Post, 08/25/09

President Obama and his allies in Congress seem to have decided that the best way to fix the private health insurance market is to break it completely, Pipes writes. Polls have prompted them to shift from health care reform to "health insurance reform." Combine this with a government-funded, -regulated and an ultimately -controlled "co-op" system, and the nation will arrive by local roads at the same destination that the public rejected via the expressway: An out-of-control health care system dominated by federal bureaucrats and funded by increasingly high taxes.

How Free Health Care Got So Expensive
Steven Malanga, Manhattan Institute
RealClearMarkets, 08/19/09

State government mandates and the favorable tax treatment of health insurance have so distorted the market that a generation of Americans now look on medical coverage as something very different from other kinds of insurance that we buy, Malanga writes. We've been schooled in this attitude by politicians who have mandated that health insurance do things that we'd never expect from other kinds of insurance, and by consumer advocates who will demand our legislators do something about a health insurance company that doesn't cover some optional procedure that has nothing to do with life and death. It's worth keeping these differences between types of insurance in mind now that it's becoming clear that a solid majority of Americans do not want health reform that involves an even more expansive role for government.

Poll Patrol
Karlyn Bowman, American Enterprise Institute
Forbes.com, 08/24/09

Democrats are on shaky ground when they claim a public option has strong support, Bowman writes. In a July NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 46% were in favor of creating a public plan administered by the federal government, and 44% were opposed. In follow-up questions, more people agreed with the statement that a public plan would limit access to doctors and treatment than agreed with the statement that it would lower costs and provide health care for all. A mid-August ABC News/Washington Post poll finds 52% supported "having the government create a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans," down from 62% in June. In many areas, opinion on the public option is mushy, soft or non-existent, and how a pollster words a question and the information he provides can pull people in very different directions, Bowman concludes.

Cooperatives' Record Weighed in Health-Care Debate
Steven Mufson
The Washington Post, 08/27/09

The Washington Post looks at rural co-operatives to see how existing ones actually perform. They are being touted as a substitute for a new government-run health insurance program, but the Post finds that rural electric cooperatives still rely heavily on federal credit subsidies, have weak balance sheets and, some studies suggest, operate less efficiently than privately-owned utilities.

Healthcare Struggle Is About Freedom
Star Parker, CURE
Scripps Howard News Service, 08/21/09

Part of the thousand page health care bill mandates that individuals buy insurance and that companies provide it, or pay a fine. These government mandates to buy and provide insurance would make health sharing ministries, where communities of individuals pool their personal funds to take care of each other, unviable, Parker writes. About 100,000 Americans participate in private, voluntary Christian communities that take care of their own health care independently of government and insurance companies. It's health care with a human face, where those paying know who they are paying for and for what. If Barack Obama has his way, they'll be out of business.

STATE ISSUES

Bay State Health Insurance Premiums Highest in Country
Kay Lazar
The Boston Globe, 08/22/09

Massachusetts has the most expensive family health insurance premiums in the country, according to a new analysis that highlights the state's challenge in trying to rein in medical costs after passage of a landmark 2006 law that mandated coverage for nearly everyone, The Boston Globe writes. The report by the Commonwealth Fund showed that the average family premium for plans offered by employers in Massachusetts was $13,788 in 2008, 40% higher than in 2003. The report did not break out how much premiums have increased in Massachusetts since the 2006 changes went into effect, but with the state's law often cited as a model for a national health care overhaul, advocates on various sides of the issue said the report underscores the urgency of including cost controls in any large-scale federal or state overhaul.

Upcoming Events

 

2009 Inaugural Freedom Conference
The Steamboat Institute Event
August 28-29, 2009
Steamboat Springs, CO
Grace-Marie Turner will speak about "Obama Budget Policies: The Road to Serfdom" at 2:15 p.m. on Friday, August 28.

Understanding Health Care Co-ops
Cato Institute Capitol Hill Briefing
Wednesday, September 9, 2009, 12:00 p.m.
Washington, DC

Health Reform Then and Now: What Do We Need to Know?
American Enterprise Institute Event
Friday, September 11, 2009, 9:15 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.
Washington, DC

 

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Health Policy Matters is a weekly newsletter containing summaries of timely and informative studies and articles on free-market health reform. It features a commentary by Grace-Marie Turner on the major developments and issues of the week as well as summaries of writings by participants in the Health Policy Consensus Group and other articles of interest from the health policy world, plus announcements of coming events. Health Policy Matters is published by the Galen Institute, a not-for-profit public policy organization specializing in information and education on health policy. For more information about the newsletter and our organization, please visit our website at www.galen.org.

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The views expressed in this newsletter are the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Galen Institute or its directors.

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