2009-08-14 The public option will be run by insurance companies

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When the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed a bill on July 15 creating an anemic "public option" program, Health Care for America Now (HCAN) and other "public option" proponents were ecstatic. They welcomed the "public option" in the HELP committee bill, proclaiming it "strong" or "robust." But the actual provisions in the HELP Committee bill call for numerous "community health insurance options," not the single "Medicare-like" plan promised by "public option" advocates. That means the individual "options" will probably be as small and weak as the co-ops now under discussion in the Senate Finance Committee. More importantly, these "community options" will almost certainly be run by insurance companies.


To determine what the HELP Committee "public option" proposal is, one must first find a final version of the legislation that came out of the committee. Ordinarily, that is not a difficult process. But for some reason, the HELP Committee bill still has no bill number and, three weeks after it was voted out of the HELP committee, still is not available for the public to read. That might sound like a sloppy way to run a Senate committee, but I have confirmed with two sources that there is no final bill available. An aide in the Washington office of Senator Al Franken (D-MN), with whom I spoke on August 7, referred me to the draft bill posted at the HELP Committee's Website. At this Website, the draft bill appears in two pieces, one labeled "the Affordable Health Choices Act" and the other labeled "the additional Chairman's mark on coverage." It is in the "Chairman's mark" segment of the bill, beginning at page 77, that we find "Section 3106: Community health insurance option."


Section 3106 is difficult to read. It fails to offer clear definitions of critical terms, it uses different terms to describe the same thing, and it contains unnecessarily abstract language. Because it is poorly written, it requires at least two readings to understand it. I will tell you first what I derive from it in the plainest language possible, and then discuss some of its provisions so you can judge for yourself whether I got it right.