Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Camel in the Room?

If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, what is a health care plan designed by the 111th Congress?

Nothing you'd want to ride into the mid-term elections. Committee mark-ups dictated by health industry lobbyists, secret deals whose makers regularly renege, sell-outs, cop-outs and downright sleaze have turned the idea of reform into something possibly worse than the godawful mess we have now.

We can't be certain until we know specifically what little surprises have been, and continue to be, slipped into the bill,  like the stealthy cap on insurance payments for the seriously ill. (See previous post, "How Things Work.")  But when the likes of Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson are calling the shots, you can bet the farm on two general points: (1) It'll be bad for sick people and (2) it'll fatten the coffers of insurance companies and their top executives.

For example, the insurance company surrogates have already twisted the bill to virtually assure that, absent a public option to compete with the private insurers, your health care premiums will increase by an average of $1,000 a year.  There's nothing to prevent providers from continuing to raise their fees; not one word.  Medicare won't be allowed to use its economy of scale to bargain down your drug prices.  Since insurance companies will continue to be exempt from anti-trust laws, they won't even have to compete with one another.  New biologic drugs will be protected forever from competition from generics.  All of this has been done more or less out in the open.

Now consider that the first draft of a House effort at health care reform ran to 1,000 pages, much of it written in legispeak gobbledygook that militated against genuine reform.  The last unverified report I saw speculated that the thing kicking around the Senate was up to 2,000 pages and growing.  Can you imagine the number of Catches 22 the lobbyists, lawyers and legislators can cram into 2,000-plus pages behind closed doors?

When something finally reaches the floor, how many Senators will actually have read and understood every word of this document by the time they cast their votes?  Will they finally be so weary of the whole torturesome business, so eager to send something, anything, to the President, so desperate to crow about "making history," that they'll rush this worse-than-a-camel to passage unread, the way they did the horrible USA Patriot Act?

And after that comes the process of reconciliation in conference, where the same health industry puppets who created the messes will attempt to merge the House and Senate versions of health care "reform" into a final bill.  The conferees will, of course, continue to be guided by their muses, the lobbyists, even as they prattle, outside the chamber doors where the TV cameras lurk, about public options and public debts and Joe Lieberman's wife, a former insurance industry shill who now -- Say it ain't so, Joe! -- actually gets money for  promoting donations to a breast cancer charity.

Try to sell this plot as a comedy for the Broadway stage and they wouldn't even let you in the side door at Sardi's.

But there it is, our government in action, our leaders doing their duty to the people who elected them.

May the Angels of Mercy save us!  The health care bill sure as hell won't.

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