Hold the Hyperbole on the Senate Health Bill

Hold the champagne.

And don’t get rolled over by the hyperbole.

The Senate health care bill, which just passed 60-39, is nothing to cheer about.

It will do “more harm than good,” say the leaders of Physicians for a National Health Program.

They acknowledge “the salutary provisions included in the legislation, notably an expansion of Medicaid coverage, increased funds for community clinics, and regulations to curtail some of private insurers’ most egregious practices,” write Dr. Oliver Fein, Dr. David Himmelstein, and Dr. Steffie Woolhandler.

But these are outweighed, they say, by the bill’s killer flaws.

The individual mandate “would reinforce private insurers’ stranglehold on care” by forcing millions of people to buy insurance on the private market. “Those who dislike their current employer-sponsored coverage would be forced to keep it,” they write. “Those without insurance would be forced to pay private insurers’ inflated premiums, often for coverage so skimpy that serious illness would bankrupt them.”

The individual mandate, by the way, was the top priority of the private insurance lobby.

The leaders of the single-payer organization cite four other problems with the bill.

One: “The bill’s anti-abortion provisions would restrict reproductive choice, compromising the health of women and adolescent girls.”

Two: “The new 40 percent tax on high-cost health plans—deceptively labeled a ‘Cadillac tax’—would hit many middle-income families.”

Three: “The bill would drain $43 billion from Medicare payments to safety-net hospitals, threatening the care of the 23 million who will remain uninsured even if the bill works as planned.”

And four: “The bill would leave hundreds of millions of Americans with inadequate insurance. . . . Predictably, as health care costs continue to grow, more families will face co-payments and deductibles so high that they preclude adequate access to care.”

This last point puts the lie to the claim that the bill will cover 26 million more Americans. Actually, it will force most of those 26 million either to buy private insurance or pay a fine of $750 a person or $2,250 a family by the year 2016. Millions of people will likely to choose to pay that fine rather than pay the premiums, co-pays, and deductibles that can reach four, five, or six times the fine.

National Nurses United, the newly formed union of 150,000 nurses, also opposes the bill.

It points out that the much-heralded prohibition on not covering people with preexisting conditions is far less than meets the eye.

For instance, “insurers can charge four times more based on age plus more for certain conditions, and continue to use marketing techniques to cherry-pick healthier, less costly enrollees. So the insurance companies might not have a policy of not covering preexisting conditions, but they would have a practice of doing it.

Also, check this out: “Insurers may continue to rescind policies for ‘fraud or intentional misrepresentation’—the main pretext insurance companies now use to cancel coverage,” notes the nurses’ union.

Much of the bill is a straight up handout to the private insurance companies.

Remember the Medicare buy in proposal for people between the ages of 55 and 65? Well, that’s gone from the bill, and in its place, the government will pay employers and the insurance companies for covering the part of this cohort that is retired. The program “will reimburse employers or insurers for 80 percent of retiree claims between $15,000 and $90,000,” the bill says, according to an excellent breakdown by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Gone, too, of course, is any public option.

“Sadly, we have ended up with legislation that fails to meet the true test of health care reform, guaranteeing high quality, cost-effective care for all Americans,” said Karen Higgins, co-president of National Nurses United. Instead, she added, we are “further locking into place a system that entrenches the chokehold of the profit-making insurance giants on our health.”

No wonder the stocks of those giants are soaring.