Six Smart Progressive Complaints About House Health Bill

The Affordable Health Care for America Act was approved by the U.S.
House Saturday night with overwhelming support from progressive
Democrats who serve in the chamber and from a president who was
nominated and elected with the enthusiastic support of progressive

But that does not mean that informed and engaged progressives are entirely enthusiastic about the measure.

In fact, some are openly and explicitly opposed to it -- among them
former Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio,
and CPC member Eric Massa, D-New York, both of whom broke with the
majority of their fellow Democrats to vote "no" when the House approved
the measure by a narrow 220-215 vote Saturday.

How can this be?

Isn't this a fight between Democrats and Republicans? Between reforming liberals and tea-party conservatives?

How can there possibly be any subtlety or nuance to this debate?

Well, of course, the debate over this 1,900-page behemoth of a bill is more complicated than the easy spin of political insiders -- and media cheering sections -- would have Americans believe.

Key interest groups, such as the National Organization for Women,
and key congressmen who have been long-term supporters of reform, such
as single-payer backers Massa and Kucinich, argue that the bill is not
the cure for what ails the U.S. health care system.

Indeed, they suggest, the bill as it is currently constructed could make a bad situation worse.

Many sincere progressives in the House, and outside of it, chose to
back the bill as the best that could be gotten. Others supported it on
the theory that flaws could be fixed in the Senate and in the
reconciliation of the House and Senate bills.

But those repairs will only be made if activists are conscious of what ails this bill.

For that reason, even supporters of the House legislation would be
wise to consider the criticisms of it by groups that advocate for the
rights of women, patient advocates, unions and some of the most
progressive members of the House.

Here are six smart progressive complaints about the House bill:

1. FROM CONGRESSMAN ERIC MASSA: "This Bill Will Enshrine in Law the Monopolistic Powers of the Private Health Insurance Industry"

At the highest level, this bill will enshrine in law
the monopolistic powers of the private health insurance industry,
period. There's really no other way to look at it. I believe the
private health insurance industry is part of the problem.

This bill also, I believe, fails to address the fundamental
question before the American people, and that is how do we control the
costs of health care. It does not address interstate portability, as
Medicare does. It does not address real medical malpractice insurance
reform. It does not address the incredible waste and fraud that are
currently in the system.


While the current bills will provide limited assistance
for some, the inconvenient truth is they fall far short in effective
controls on skyrocketing insurance, pharmaceutical and hospital costs,
do little to stop insurance companies from denying needed medical care
recommended by doctors, and provide little relief for Americans with
employer-sponsored insurance worried about health security for
themselves and their families.

3. FROM THE NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN: "This Bill Obliterates Women's Fundamental Right to Choose"

The House of Representatives has dealt the worst blow
to women's fundamental right to self-determination in order to buy a
few votes for reform of the profit-driven health insurance industry. We
must protect the rights we fought for in Roe v. Wade. We cannot and
will not support a health care bill that strips millions of women of
their existing access to abortion.

Birth control and abortion are integral aspects of women's health
care needs. Health care reform should not be a vehicle to obliterate a
woman's fundamental right to choose.

The Stupak Amendment (to the House bill, which was approved and
attached on Saturday) goes far beyond the abusive Hyde Amendment, which
has denied federal funding of abortion since 1976. The Stupak
Amendment, if incorporated into the final version of health insurance
reform legislation, will:

* Prevent women receiving tax subsidies from using their own money to purchase private insurance that covers abortion;

  • Prevent women participating in the public health insurance
    exchange, administered by private insurance companies, from using 100
    percent of their own money to purchase private insurance that covers

* Prevent low-income women from accessing abortion entirely, in many cases.

NOW calls on the Senate to pass a health care bill that respects
women's constitutionally protected right to abortion and calls on
President Obama to refuse to sign any health care bill that restricts
women's access to affordable, quality reproductive health care.

4. FROM PLANNED PARENTHOOD'S CECILE RICHARDS: This Bill Embraces Religious-Right Extremes

It is extremely unfortunate that the United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops and anti-choice opponents were able to
hijack the health care reform bill in their dedicated attempt to ban
all legal abortion In the United States.

Most telling is the fact that the vast majority of members of the
House who supported the Stupak/Pitts amendment in today's vote do not
support HR 3962, revealing their true motive, which is to kill the
health care reform bill.

These single-issue advocates simply used health care reform to
advance their extreme, ideological agenda at the expense of tens of
millions of women.

5. FROM CONGRESSMAN DENNIS KUCINICH,: This Bill Worries About the Health of Wall Street, Not America

We have been led to believe that we must make our
health care choices only within the current structure of a predatory,
for-profit insurance system which makes money not providing health
care. We cannot fault the insurance companies for being what they are.
But we can fault legislation in which the government incentivizes the
perpetuation, indeed the strengthening, of the for-profit health
insurance industry, the very source of the problem. When health
insurance companies deny care or raise premiums, co-pays and
deductibles they are simply trying to make a profit. That is our

Clearly, the insurance companies are the problem, not the solution.
They are driving up the cost of health care. Because their massive
bureaucracy avoids paying bills so effectively, they force hospitals
and doctors to hire their own bureaucracy to fight the insurance
companies to avoid getting stuck with an unfair share of the bills. The
result is that since 1970, the number of physicians has increased by
less than 200% while the number of administrators has increased by 3000
percent. It is no wonder that 31 cents of every health care dollar goes
to administrative costs, not toward providing care. Even those with
insurance are at risk. The single biggest cause of bankruptcies in the
U.S. is health insurance policies that do not cover you when you get

But instead of working toward the elimination of for-profit
insurance, H.R. 3962 would put the government in the role of
accelerating the privatization of health care. In H.R. 3962, the
government is requiring at least 21 million Americans to buy private
health insurance from the very industry that causes costs to be so
high, which will result in at least $70 billion in new annual revenue,
much of which is coming from taxpayers. This inevitably will lead to
even more costs, more subsidies, and higher profits for insurance
companies - a bailout under a blue cross.

By incurring only a new requirement to cover pre-existing
conditions, a weakened public option, and a few other important but
limited concessions, the health insurance companies are getting quite a
deal. The Center for American Progress' blog, Think Progress, states,
'since the President signaled that he is backing away from the public
option, health insurance stocks have been on the rise.' Similarly,
healthcare stocks rallied when Senator Max Baucus introduced a bill
without a public option. Bloomberg reports that Curtis Lane, a
prominent health industry investor, predicted a few weeks ago that
'money will start flowing in again' to health insurance stocks after
passage of the legislation. last month reported that
pharmacy benefit managers share prices are hitting all-time highs, with
the only industry worry that the Administration would reverse its
decision not to negotiate Medicare Part D drug prices, leaving in place
a Bush Administration policy.

During the debate, when the interests of insurance companies would
have been effectively challenged, that challenge was turned back. The
'robust public option' which would have offered a modicum of
competition to a monopolistic industry was whittled down from an
initial potential enrollment of 129 million Americans to 6 million. An
amendment which would have protected the rights of states to pursue
single-payer health care was stripped from the bill at the request of
the Administration. Looking ahead, we cringe at the prospect of even
greater favors for insurance companies.

Recent rises in unemployment indicate a widening separation between
the finance economy and the real economy. The finance economy considers
the health of Wall Street, rising corporate profits, and banks'
hoarding of cash, much of it from taxpayers, as sign of an economic
recovery. However in the real economy - in which most Americans live -
the recession is not over. Rising unemployment, business failures,
bankruptcies and foreclosures are still hammering Main Street.

This health care bill continues the redistribution of wealth to Wall
Street at the expense of America's manufacturing and service economies
which suffer from costs other countries do not have to bear, especially
the cost of health care. America continues to stand out among all
industrialized nations for its privatized health care system. As a
result, we are less competitive in steel, automotive, aerospace and
shipping while other countries subsidize their exports in these areas
through socializing the cost of health care.

Notwithstanding the fate of H.R. 3962, America will someday come to
recognize the broad social and economic benefits of a not-for-profit,
single-payer health care system, which is good for the American people
and good for America's businesses, with of course the notable
exceptions being insurance and pharmaceuticals.

6. FROM "SICKO'S" DONNA SMITH: The Bill Does Not Cure What Ails Us

Passing a healthcare reform bill that does not provide
me with better access to care or protection from bankruptcy and
financial ruin is not what I asked you all to do. Stripping away all
reference to a progressively financed, single standard of high quality
healthcare for all - also known as single-payer -- is done only to more
deeply ensconce the deep pocketed interests in healthcare: the private,
for-profit insurance giants, the big pharmaceuticals, the medical
equipment companies, the hospital corporations and all the other making
huge profits as thousands die needless deaths.

Healthcare is a basic human right. Granting that right is not something
to be calculated differently in swing Congressional districts, off-year
election strategy or second-Presidential term planning. It is your
(members of Congress') duty to me, to my fellow citizens and to your

And (members of Congress) are marching away from reality when you think
all the hard-working people who counted on you to make this a better
healthcare system will not notice when you deliver insurance purchase
mandates and a corporate bail-out that will dwarf the Wall Street
trillions you've already justified.

Watch Smith's video: "American Sickos: Will the Current Bills Help? No"

Follow Smith's organizing for real reform at the website of Progressive Democrats of America. She is the national co-chair of PDA's Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign.

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