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Goofing Up Health Care Reform

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America's shouting match over health care reform has turned completely goofy - and I'm not talking about confused seniors at teabag rallies getting red-faced with anger after being told by the right-wing scare machine that "government is trying to taker over Medicare." No, I'm talking about our United States senators.

Take Max Baucus. Please! He's the lightweight Montana Democrat to whom President Obama entrusted the heavy job of shepherding health care reform through the upper chamber. It was like asking Tweety Bird to lift a bowling ball.

Baucus is chairman of the finance committee. The what? Excuse me, but why wouldn't the health committee be the appropriate venue for taking the lead on, you know, health reform? I mean, we don't submit banking legislation to the health panel, so ...

Nonetheless, there it was, and Baucus rather goofily began the process by cheerfully chirping that he was discarding any consideration of the one straightforward and popular reform that would actually work: the single-payer system of insurance, which more appropriately should be called "Medicare for all."

This easy-to-grasp approach would be a boon to us patients, doctors and taxpayers, with only the greed-fueled insurance companies and rip-off drug companies getting a comeuppance. But, no go from the chairman - who, coincidentally, has received nearly $600,000 from insurance drug companies and hospitals in the past two years and has gleefully continued to collect beaucoup bucks from them this year, even as he has been writing legislation that bases "reform" on their selfish profit interests.

Baucus, backed by unanimous and enthusiastic support from Republicans on his committee, has merrily jettisoned reform after reform that the industry opposed.

For example, an amendment to require drug-price discounts for low-income seniors with multiple chronic illnesses: killed. The provision to include a not-for-profit, public-insurance option to increase competition, provide consumer choice and keep insurance corporations honest: gone.

To explain such spectacular servitude to the special interests by a Democrat who should be expected to stand for the interests of ordinary folks, the milquetoast chairman simply stated that his goal was to produce a bill that could win the industry's support and get the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.

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That's his goal? If the meek ever inherit the earth, Baucus will be a land baron! Why isn't it his goal to produce the best health care there is for all of the American people? Why has he empowered Republicans (who - remember? - lost the White House and Senate last year) to control the terms of the debate and the content of the Democrat's bill?

Why doesn't he take a couple of testosterone shots and reach out to the 65 percent of Americans (including 47 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of doctors) who support the public insurance option, rallying them and some of his own weak-kneed Democratic colleagues to kick the selfish health insurance lobbyists right in the butt?

It was not so long ago that Montana sent people like Mike Mansfield and Lee Metcalf to the U.S. Senate - real Democrats of stature who didn't suck up to lobbyists and run scared of Republicans. One has to ask: Is Baucus really from Montana?

The Republicans he seeks to satisfy are ideological goofballs like Iowa's Sen. Chuck Grassley, who wails that a nonprofit public insurance option would offer better deals to consumers than the mingy, exorbitantly expensive health care policies sold by the monopolistic insurance giants. That's unfair, he cried. The public insurance plan, complained the clueless Grassley, would not pay excessive salaries and bonuses to top executives, would not rake off billions of dollars in profit and would not retain massive bureaucracies whose sole purpose is to try to keep from covering treatments that our doctors provide.

With no need to pamper executives, put profits above patients and stiff policy holders, sobbed the senator, the public plan would upset the industry's competitive balance.

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Exactly! And that's why we consumers want and need the honest competition that the public insurance option could provide.


Jim Hightower is an American populist, spreading his message of democratic hope via national radio commentaries, columns, books, his award-winning monthly newsletter (The Hightower Lowdown) and barnstorming tours all across America.

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