Liberals with Private Health Insurance to Uninsured: Drop Dead
I have a question for politicians like Rep. Raul Grijalva, Rep. Anthony Weiner, and the the folks at Firedoglake who would rather kill reform than enact the Senate bill: what kind of health insurance do you have?
(I suppose I should voluntarily share such information as well — I am insured by Blue Cross Blue Shield.)
The answer to that question with respect to any member of Congress is this: private insurance. “But no!” you say. Members of Congress have government-run health care! No, they don’t. This is a common misconception. They are not on Medicare, or some totally awesome plan called Congresscare. Members of Congress receive health insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) plan. FEHB offers federal employees — including members of Congress — a choice of private insurers. One might call such a system an “exchange.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because the Senate health bill (like the House bill) offers the uninsured a choice of private insurers (including a national non-profit) through an exchange.
The argument that passing nothing is preferable to passing the Senate bill goes like this: the Senate bill has no public option. Thus, the individual mandate would enrich insurance companies. And we can’t do that.
First, I think worrying about insurance company profits is a luxury enjoyed by those who have insurance. Most uninsured people would take private insurance over no insurance.
(Many progressives also take issue with the excise tax on high-cost plans. I favor that tax, although I think merely indexing it to inflation is not entirely fair, given that health care costs rise at a faster rate than inflation.)
Second, I have some uncomfortable news for every progressive who wants to kill HCR because they don’t want private insurers to enjoy bigger profits: your private insurance enriches the insurance companies. Denying the uninsured what you yourself enjoy is the most despicable sort of hypocrisy imaginable. And yes, I understand that private insurance in the exchanges would be subsidized. Guess what: if you receive private insurance through your employer, your insurance is subsidized too. It’s called the employer health plan tax exclusion.
I’ve spent the last year or so bashing the Republicans and the Liebermans of the world for doing everything possible to ensure that health care legislation is not enacted, and that the uninsured continue to go without. I never thought we would find ourselves in this predicament — to have passed a bill through both houses — only to have liberals kill health care reform at the eleventh hour. In fact, I don’t think I could ever have imagined a scenario in which liberals would be responsible for killing reform. But that is where we are.
When I registered to vote as an 18-year-old, it seemed to me that a belief in universal health care was central to “being a Democrat.” I still don’t see much point in being a registered independent — at least in states that have closed primaries. You simply disenfranchise yourself. But registering with a political party ought to be about more than maximizing your voting leverage. When you register with a party, you are making a moral statement — a statement about your core values and philosophy. Universal health care has always been the backbone of the Democratic domestic policy platform. This is why people who believe in universal health care tend to be Democrats.
If the Democrats choose to pass nothing — and it is a choice, because the House could pass the Senate bill tomorrow and enact reform, if House progressives would only allow it — then they will have abandoned their moral core on domestic policy. I’m still hoping they step back from the brink.
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