Thursday, December 10, 2009

I Read The News Today, Oh Boy...

Newspapers are shadows of their former selves and their traditional role as watchdogs of the powerful has atrophied and all but disappeared. Still, major U.S. newspapers can claim some excellent journalists, such as the Washington Post's Ezra Klein. His coverage of the health care reform debate has been top-notch, and I consider him one of the few go-to guys when I want to cut through the lies and bullshit and get to the bottom line.

From today's WaPo:
As I reported earlier, the public option discussions have begun focusing on a compromise that's, well, not a public option. The liberals see the potential necessity of that but aren't pleased about it. So the discussions have opened up to include items that are not specifically the public option, but could help achieve some of its objectives and better the bill in ways liberals and moderates could both support. The discussions right now are fluid, but smart observers are urging attention to five possible points of compromise.

1) Medicare buy-in: The older you get, the tougher it is to find affordable insurance. Private insurers avoid you like the plague or jack your rates sky-high. Some of that will change with health-care reform. Insurers won't be able to reject older Americans outright, for instance. But they'll still be able to charge them quite a bit more than younger Americans pay.

One way to ease the situation for older Americans would be to let them buy into Medicare. Medicare negotiates far better rates than private insurers, making it a potentially cheaper option. Moreover, folks over 55 will be in Medicare fairly soon anyway, so this allows for not only better insurance, but more continuity in insurance, which means more continuity in doctors, preventive treatment, etc. This idea was present in Max Baucus's original white paper, and even in Howard Dean's 2004 health-care reform plan. It's due for a comeback.

2) Medicaid expansion: The House health-care reform plan lets Medicaid cover folks up to 150 percent of the poverty rate. The Senate bill hits only 133 percent. Bringing the Senate bill into line with the House bill would ease the financial burden -- and assure more comprehensive insurance -- for the very poorest Americans, who are most in need of help anyway.

3) Subsidy expansion: The Senate bill costs about $850 billion, and most observers agree the subsidies are too low. An easy compromise would be to resuscitate the president's idea to cap itemized deductions at 35 percent of income (actually, he wanted 28 percent of income, but never mind), which would raise a bit more than $100 billion, money that could go to expand the subsidies.

4) Tighter regulation of insurers: This could take a number of forms. Allowing less discrimination around age and geography could be one. Another would be a tight cap on the so-called medical loss ratio, which is the amount of money that goes toward paying claims, as opposed to the amount of money that goes to profits, compensation, advertising,and everything else. The bill, for instance, could force insurers to use 87 percent of every premium dollar to actually pay for medical care, which would force the plans to act more like liberals want the public option to act.

5) Open exchanges: Chartering national non-profits to compete with the for-profit insurance market isn't a bad idea, but it's not going to have much of an effect if less than 10 percent of the population is allowed to purchase from them. That, however, is the current situation, as the exchanges are locked to most Americans. Opening them to larger businesses would be the first step toward creating a more competitive insurance market, and allowing something along the lines of Ron Wyden's Free Choice amendment, which gives individuals who don't like their employer's insurance the ability to take their money and choose something better, would be the second.

BeltwayBlips: vote it up!

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