The healthcare reform debate – such as it is – has already provided more than enough disappointment for Americans who recognize the need for a thorough reordering of the way in which this nation meets the medical needs of its populace.
But the hits just keep on coming.
Indeed, there is good reason to believe the Congress is edging away from a healthcare reform debate and toward a far more limited discussion of insurance reform.
Tuesday’s day-long gathering of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, where chairman Max Baucus has spent months lowering expectations, offered a sense of just how dim prospects for meaningful systemic change have become.
Baucus, the insurance-industry representative who doubles as a Democratic senator from Montana, long ago rejected the notion that a robust public option might be a part of any healthcare reform measure that would pass the Senate.
His committee, on Tuesday, agreed – blocking moves by two Democratic senators, West Virginia’s Jay Rockefeller and New York’s Chuck Schumer, to amend the finance committee’s plan to include a government-backed alternative to private insurance.
What was especially unsettling about the Finance Committee votes was the failure on the part of most — though not all — senators that the public option is itself a compromise.
The reform that is needed — a single-payer “Medicare for All” system that offers every American the care they need, flexibility in choices of doctors and hospitals and responsible controls on costs — has been taken “off the table” by the Obama administration and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.
What the president and his allies initially offered serious reformers was a hamstrung variation on single-payer, in the form of a “public option” that could serve as an alternative to the offerings of the for-profit insurance companies.
The public option has always been the last line in the sand for serious reformers. Indeed, as a frustrated Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold said Thursday: “A public health insurance option is key to ensuring every American is able to afford health insurance and without it, I don’t see how we will bring real reform to the system.”
Says Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont: “Clearly, if we are serious about cost containment, private insurance companies must have competition from a public plan.”