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Context of 'April 21-May 12, 2009: Senate Finance Committee Hearings Exclude ‘Single-Payer’ Proponents'

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The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), holds a series of hearings about health care reform, on April 21, May 5, and May 12. In all, 41 experts testify, but none of them advocate the so-called “single-payer” form of health care, a system which essentially has the government providing health care insurance instead of private insurers—“Medicare for all Americans,” as some characterize it. [Politico, 5/5/2009; Single Payer Action, 5/21/2009] The experts are from organizations like America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the health industry’s largest lobbying firm, and health insurers Blue Cross and Aetna. Some of the invited organizations employ former Baucus staff members. [Rolling Stone, 9/3/2009] Baucus says that single-payer is “off the table,” and will not be considered. [TPM Cafe, 5/5/2009]
Health Industry Heavy Donors to Baucus - The nonpartisan organization Consumer Watchdog has reported that Baucus, one of the Senate’s most important architects of Congressional health reform, has accepted more campaign contributions from the health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations than any other current Democratic member of the House or Senate. During the last two election cycles, he received $183,750 from health insurance companies and $229,020 from drug companies. [Single Payer Action, 5/21/2009]
Protesters Disrupt Hearings - Protesters disrupt the hearings by standing up and shouting criticisms of the committee over its failure to bring single-payer into the discussion. Eight protesters are led out of the hearing room and later arrested. At one point, Baucus asks for more police officers to enforce security. The protests are organized by Healthcare Now, Physicians for a National Health Program, and Single Payer Action, all of whom support a single-payer, government-run health care system. One protester calls the hearings nothing more than “political theater.” For his part, Baucus assures the audience, “I want you to know I care deeply about your views.” [Politico, 5/5/2009] The eight protesters spend around seven hours in jail. One, Dr. Margaret Flowers, later recalls: “It’s funny, the policemen were all telling us their horror stories about health care. One was telling us about his mother who was 62 and lost her job and was uninsured, waiting to get Medicare when she was 65.” The protesters are sentenced to six months’ probation. Baucus later admits that not allowing single-payer advocates to participate in the hearings was a mistake; he will eventually agree to meet with a group of those advocates (see June 3, 2009).
Single-Payer Never Considered - In September, Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi will note that Baucus, like President Obama and other prominent Democrats, has supported single-payer insurance in theory, but asserts such a proposal would never get through Congress. Journalist Russell Mokhiber, who advocates for single-payer as a member of Single Payer Action, later says that the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats made an agreement with health industry leaders months before considering legislation for health care reform that single-payer would not be part of their proposals. In return, Mokhiber will say, they asked the industry not to oppose their reform efforts, a request that the industry has generally not honored. [Rolling Stone, 9/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Aetna, Healthcare Now, Consumer Watchdog, Barack Obama, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Single Payer Action, Blue Cross, Russell Mokhiber, Margaret Flowers, Matt Taibbi, Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, Obama administration, Physicians for a National Health Program

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

Max Baucus (D-MT), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, meets with advocates of “single-payer,” or government-run health insurance. Baucus recently chaired hearings on health care reform which excluded single-payer advocates (see April 21-May 12, 2009). He meets with representatives of the advocacy group Physicians for a National Health Program (PHNP), two Harvard University medical professors, a medical school dean, and representatives of the California Nurses Association. One of the participants, Dr. David Himmelstein of PHNP, says: “Bowing to mounting pressure from single-payer advocates around the nation, Senator Baucus has asked to meet with some representatives of the single-payer movement.… We have no illusions that our discussions alone will persuade Senator Baucus to back a single-payer bill. But the meeting is a clear indication that demonstrations and activism can move even our money-corrupted political culture.” Some polls show that a majority of Americans back single-payer insurance, as do doctors and health economists. [Single Payer Action, 5/31/2009]

Entity Tags: Max Baucus, California Nurses Association, Physicians for a National Health Program, David Himmelstein, Senate Finance Committee, Harvard University

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the health insurance industry’s largest lobbying organization, releases a study that claims the Democrats’ health care reform initiative would send health insurance costs sharply upward. The study is released the day before the Senate Finance Committee votes on its version of the reform proposal. [The Week, 10/12/2009] AHIP says it intends to circulate the study among lawmakers on Capitol Hill and use it as the basis for new advertisements attacking the health care reform proposals. [Washington Post, 10/12/2009] NBC Washington calls the study “a surgical strike against Democrats’ best hope for passing health reform,” specifically targeting the Finance Committee’s legislative efforts, which it calls the “Baucus bill” for committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT). Until now, AHIP has operated largely behind the scenes to delay or terminate Congressional efforts to reform US health care; the study marks its most public and overt effort to influence the discussion. According to the study, which was carried out by accounting and services firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and paid for by AHIP, the average cost increase would be $1,700 per family per year by 2013. “[T]he cumulative increases in the cost of a typical family policy… will be approximately $20,700 more than it would be under the current system,” the report claims. “[T]he cost of coverage for both single and family policies in the individual, small group, large group, and self-funded insurance markets” will rise dramatically. AHIP official Karen Ignagni says private insurers would almost certainly pass cost increases to consumers for a number of reasons, including her claim that too many people with pre-existing conditions would sign up for insurance. “The report makes clear that several major provisions in the current legislative proposal will cause health care costs to increase far faster and higher than they would under the current system,” she writes. Baucus calls the study “seriously flawed.” A spokesman for the Finance Committee, Scott Mulhauser, says: “Now that health care reform grows ever closer, these health insurers are breaking out the same, tired playbook of deception to prevent millions of Americans from getting the affordable, accessible care they need. It’s a health insurance company hatchet job, plain and simple.” [America's Health Insurance Plans, 10/11/2009; NBC Washington, 10/12/2009; Washington Post, 10/12/2009] An analysis of the committee’s proposal by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) shows that while some people’s premiums would go up, the subsidies to be provided by the government would make health insurance considerably less expensive for most consumers. According to the CBO, premiums under the government “exchange” option proposed in the Baucus bill would cost consumers $14,400 per year in 2016, while the average private insurer would charge their customers $21,300 by 2016. [Think Progress, 10/12/2009] Nancy-Anne DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, says PWC is not the firm to have carried out such a study. “Those guys specialize in tax shelters,” she says. “Clearly this is not their area of expertise.” [Washington Post, 10/12/2009] Almost immediately after the study’s release, critics begin attacking it, calling it deeply flawed and an “industry hit job” (see October 11-12, 2009). And PWC itself will back away from the study’s central claims (see October 12, 2009).

Entity Tags: Scott Mulhauser, Max Baucus, Karen Ignagni, Nancy-Anne DeParle, Senate Finance Committee, Congressional Budget Office, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, America’s Health Insurance Plans

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

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