It's mind boggling. Mere months after a historic election in which Americans demanded real change - the forces for business as usual have returned with a vengeance. We knew Republicans would try to scuttle health care reform by protecting private health insurance companies from having to compete with a public health insurance option. After all, they are the party of "no" and the party that represents powerful corporate interests. It's their job to side with greedy insurance lobbyists. What's surprising however is that the lobbyists have invited Democrats into the "No We Can't Coalition" - and a surprising number are joining forces with the special interests and opposing a public health insurance option. In other words: they are saying "no" to real health care reform.
A prominent example is Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. Wyden, in failing to push for a public health insurance option, has brazenly aligned himself with the insurance industry and against ordinary Americans - 73 percent of whom firmly believe they should have a public health insurance option. Americans don't trust private health insurance companies to stay honest. Ron Wyden apparently does. Why? Is it because Sen. Wyden has taken some $1.5 million in contributions from health and insurance interests? In fact, one of Sen. Wyden's top lobbyist donors is DLA Piper (and its iterations) which represents huge Wall Street firms and pharmaceutical companies who are deathly afraid that health care reform might actually make prescription drugs affordable to Americans.
Sen. Wyden is a perfect example of the "No We Can't Coalition." The Wyden plan is co-sponsored by one of the most conservative Republicans in the Senate, Utah's Robert Bennett and endorsed by two of the largest private health insurers in the nation. And who had a say in writing the Wyden plan? Several of his staff have moved on to lobbying jobs for the health industry including his former chief of staff and his former senior legislative assistant for health care.
The revolving door between Congress and K Street is only part of how the "No We Can't Coalition" is being built. The coalition is also gaining strength from a debate more focused on cost controls than coverage, integrity and quality. The reality is that we need a public health insurance option to keep the industry honest. Without such competition, we will quickly backslide not only on cost controls, but also on coverage and quality.
It's a debate we can't afford to lose. Consider the case of Julianna from Sen. Wyden's home state of Oregon. She is a nursing student Mt. Hood Community College and works part time as a certified nursing assistant. Julianna was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After being dropped from her parents insurance because she was no longer considered a dependent, she struggled to find insurance she could afford. Her job at an assisted living facility did not offer coverage, she could not afford the COBRA that was offered to her; and she was uninsurable in the individual market due to her recent diagnosis. The only plan she could get did not include prescription drug coverage and required huge co-pays for limited coverage. As her debts mount she faces tough choices about quitting school and trying to find a job with better coverage in an economy where unemployment is rampant. If Julianna had access to a public health insurance option that covered her needs at a price she could afford on her part time salary, none of this would be happening, and she could continue to focus on her education to become an effective health care professional and pass along the care she received to the millions who lack it today.
Americans don't trust private insurers. Skyrocketing costs, arbitrary denial of service and lack of competition give them plenty of reasons to reject their monopoly. The industry has shown over and over again that it has no interest in serving the Juliannas of the nation. Why should we trust them now?
Millions of Americans are grappling with private insurance nightmares and desperate for quality coverage and millions more are just a pink slip or declined coverage away from needing a back-up option. America has already answered the "No We Can't Coalition." They answered in an election, and they've answered in every poll. The answer is, "Yes we must."
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