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Subverting the Public Option

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Unless you've been living in cave for the past few months -- to be fair, not entirely unreasonable these days -- you've probably noticed the intense battle for health care reform currently sweeping the nation. While there are a great many aspects to the proposed reform, it's impossible to get around the fact that the flashpoint has been the so-called "public option." A public option -- a non-profit insurance option with lower overhead and administration costs provided by the government with a startling lack of CEO compensation bonuses -- is expected to drive up quality and drive down costs, and is consequently popular among doctors, academics, teachers, students, parents, the AARP, unions, business leaders, and everybody who isn't a Republican or a pharmaceutical lobbyist. So, obviously, it's causing a massive fight.

Full disclosure -- I'm engaged to a Canadian (I love you, sweetheart) and visit the country weekly, so I must confess I'm periodically frustrated at having to have my nose rubbed in an effective, efficient, universal, single-payer health care system. Say what you like about Canadian health care, but consider that their country isn't the one with the massive health care crisis -- or the budget deficits. But I digress.

Last time I wrote in this space, covering Congressman Massa's townhall in Horseheads, New York, one of the topics discussed was tying the premium rate for the public option to that of private insurers -- or, to use a scientific term, "making the whole flippin' thing useless." Send a bill to the floor with that sort of language and I'd hope my Congressperson would vote against it. This called for more research.

The base bill, H.R. 3200 -- in all its many iterations in committee -- pegged public option rates to Medicare. However, according to one senior Congressional staffer, a Blue Dog amendment has been offered and accepted -- meaning this is now part of the base bill -- which ties public option premiums to the average rate offered by private insurance companies in the same region. That is gutting the public option. Be sure you understand this - and be sure your Congressperson knows you do.

That said, this fight is far from over. H.R. 676, the United States National Health Insurance Act ( http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c109:H.R.676: ) -- a true single-payer bill -- will be up for a vote this fall; however, the relevant portions can be submitted as an amendment to H.R. 3200 and, according to one source, Rep. Anthony Weiner plans to do just that. Additionally, Rep. Dennis Kucinich has also submitted an amendment to H.R. 3200 giving states the legal right to adopt their own single-payer system -- any Republicans out there ought to love the chance to walk the walk on states' rights by supporting that one.

Well, that used up the last of my irony quota for the day, so I'm off til next week. In the meantime, make sure your Congressperson knows where you stand on this issue. When people are dying to pad profit margins, that's not neglectful -- that's murder. This is the time for real health care reform.

The clock is ticking.