It should come as no surprise to Baucus Watch readers that the draft omits mention of a public plan a la Medicare. Baucus has been lukewarm to the concept for months. In March, he said he considered a public option a bargaining chip to force insurers into accepting other so-called market reforms. It looks like Baucus has struck his bargain. The draft document doesn’t even call for a public plan lite. Instead it proposes non-profit co-op health plans—a lackluster option which sounds like what moderate Dems and some Republicans have been talking about as an alternative to a real public plan. Insurers, doctors, hospitals, and other foes of a public plan may be winning on this one.
The Baucus draft shows that, while the special interests will be taken care of, the public is another matter. How do millions of people feel about buying insurance they may not want or can’t realistically afford? How, for example, can a family with an income of $70,000 afford a premium of $12,000 or $13,000? If they choose the penalty because it’s cheaper than buying a policy, they will still be uninsured—so much for universality. And if they buy a cheapie limited policy, which companies will be selling by the boatloads, how will that help them when serious illness strikes? Won’t they still be underinsured and at risk for medical bankruptcy?
For starters, the media might press the White House on just where the president stands on the Baucus draft. This week, his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, told the AP that the shape of a new public plan (which Obama has been pushing) isn’t a make or break issue for the president: “It’s way too early to say ‘This is absolutely in, this is absolutely out. I mean what he’s trying to do is get a bill passed.”
The president apparently wants something that he can sell to the public. That something is fertile ground for digging real deep.