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Allison Kilkenny

Allison Kilkenny

Posted: August 23, 2009 08:26 AM

Tom Daschle: The Man Behind Insurance Cooperatives


The former Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, has been very busy performing his dual roles as health care adviser to the White House and "highly paid policy adviser to hospital, drug, pharmaceutical and other health care industry clients of Alston & Bird, the law and lobbying firm," according to the New York Times.

Daschle also advised UnitedHealth in 2007 and 2008 and resumed that role this year. In addition to being a giant in the health care industry, readers may remember UnitedHealth for its subsidiary, the Lewin Group, the consulting firm whose dubious research has been widely cited by opponents of a public insurance option. The Lewin Group is also famously a target for Rachel Maddow, who has been regularly exposing their sinister public option-busting activities for the past couple weeks.

But it was Daschle who first introduced the idea of nonprofit insurance cooperatives as an alternative to the public option. Daschle and his good buddy, Blue Dog Kent Conrad, came up with the idea of insurance co-ops which included the concept of "triggers" that landed Rahm Emanuel in hot water with progressive groups like Firedoglake when he first floated the idea past the public. Basically, the trigger idea meant that the public option would only become a reality if state co-ops or other programs failed to meet certain cost and coverage goals within five years. The idea sank almost immediately thanks in large part to progressive watchdog groups. Now, Henry Waxman told Roll Call, "[Emanuel] doesn't stand by the trigger...He said the president and his administration and he are for a public plan as one of the options."

Privately, Daschle tells his health care industry buddies that the public option is far from finalized. In order to calm the nerves of drug company executives, Daschle told them that "there is no consensus on whether there ought to be a public option." As recent as last week, he told the hospital executives, "There is virtually no support among Republican members for a public option, and that remains an unresolved element of this debate." Of course, Daschle is only concerned with support in Congress. Meanwhile, the newest polls indicated that Americans overwhelming support the idea of including a public option in health care reform.

Additionally, some Blue Dogs who have publicly opposed a public option are beginning to feel the heat from their constituents. In Max Baucus' home state, a majority of Montanans say they approve of the public option idea, while a majority disapprove of Baucus' actions on health care reform.

It seems Daschle doesn't include Montanans, or Americans in general, in his pool of "people who have reached an agreement that there ought to be a public option." That makes sense. After all, it isn't the American people who pay Daschle an annual salary of $2 million to force the public option out of President Obama's health care reform bill.

Dan Pfeiffer, a White House spokesman, said the president greatly appreciates Daschle's advice on health care reform and his friendship. I thought that was the idea behind getting the dog, Bo. A spunky little Portie is a much better companion than, say, an informal lobbyist who has none of the legal restraints placed upon traditional lobbyists, including banishment from the White House, a promise Obama made to his supporters.

If Obama is lonely, he should just stare into Bo's big, brown eyes instead of humoring the idea of insurance co-ops that won't help to lower costs, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office.

Cross-posted from Allison Kilkenny's blog. Also available on Facebook and Twitter.

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