Third Way, an organization of so-called centrist Democrats, is promoting what it calls a “hybrid” proposal for a health insurance public plan option that it says progressives should be able to support. No, we shouldn’t. It’s an unacceptable attempt by people too wedded to the status quo to protect the tail ends of the health insurance industry.
The proposal is outlined in a draft document that was published first by mcjoan at Daily Kos on Monday. It is the latest effort by Democrats aligned with the insurance industry to find a way to say to progressives that they back a public health care option while rendering that option meaningless.
The “Third Way” document is filled with right-wing talking points, such as this gem:
The proponents of a public plan seek the right goals—to broaden access and lower costs. But there is a very real danger that an overly intrusive public plan can ultimately undermine these very goals and destabilize the private-sector coverage that middle-class Americans—i.e., Harry and Louise—depend on and are largely satisfied with.
What would be “overly intrusive”? While the proposal makes much of wanting “a level playing field” between public and private plans so that private plans are not “forced to compete with one hand tied behind their back,” it proposes to tie at least one hand behind the back of the public plan. It suggests that the public plan be limited to “certain market segments” such as very small businesses or to the individual market, effectively ghettoizing the public plan to segments that the private insurance industry has traditionally not been interested in serving. It also suggests that the public plan be relegated to a regional pilot project “until its worth is demonstrated.”
Third Way has effectively embraced the argument that a public plan can’t be allowed to succeed in a way that threatens the hegemony of the private insurance market. And heaven forbid that a public plan be “a gateway toward a single-payer system,” to use the draft report’s words. Instead, it wants Congress to have faith in the vague promises made by the health insurance industry to cut costs and expand coverage. In exchange for a hybrid plan, “industry should be encouraged to deliver on their pledge to reduce the annual growth rate in health care costs by 1.5 percentage points,” the draft says. But it is not clear how industry would be encouraged to change its business practices without the combination of a robust public plan that operates at a sufficient scale and freedom to drive market efficiencies and better patient outcomes, and regulations designed to enable patients to get the care they need at reasonable cost.
This report surfaces as some conservative Democrats are considering a proposal to keep a public plan shelved unless some trigger mechanism goes off. The trigger, of course, would be set largely by the insurance industry. The Health Care for America Now coalition has already made it clear that such triggers are off the table.
Third Way’s Senate chairs are Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Tom Carper of Delaware, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. The organization’s House chairs are Jane Harman and Ellen Tauscher of California, Joseph Crowley of New York, Artur Davis of Alabama, Melissa Bean of Illinois and Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. Tell these members of Congress that the only acceptable way to health care reform is through an unencumbered, universally available public health insurance option.
[UPDATE: Courtesy of Open Left, you can also contact Third Way’s leadership—particularly health policy senior fellow David Kendall—and tell them to stop undermining support for a public insurance option.]