House Labor and Education Committee Votes to Permit States to Adopt More Progressive Health Plans...
By Ernest A. Canning on 7/19/2009, 11:06am PT  

Guest Blogged by Ernest A. Canning

On Friday the House Labor and Education Committee voted 27 - 19 to adopt an amendment offered by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) to HR 3200 [PDF], the hybrid "public option" health care legislation that leaves in place the current multi-payer system. The Kucinich amendment was supported by 13 of the Committee's Republicans. It was opposed by the Committee's chairman, George Miller (D-CA). If it survives a House floor vote and a House/Senate Conference Committee, the Kucinich amendment would insure that efforts to secure single-payer systems at the state level would not be preempted by federal law.

As explained by Donna Smith, co-chair of Progressive Democrats of America's "Healthcare NOT Warfare" campaign during a July 15, 2009 conference call [audio] amongst single-payer activists, the Kucinich amendment does not reflect an abandonment of the effort to enact the national single-payer system embodied in HR 676 [PDF]. As Smith sees it, the right to basic health care is a civil right, and like the earlier civil rights movement, its advocates must be flexible, yet relentless in pressing various strategies to put an end to what I described in "Single-Payer and the 'Democracy Deficit'" as a corrupt, dysfunctional and deadly system which places the obscene wealth of the few over the health and very lives of our citizens.

The Kucinich amendment would permit single-payer advocates in the U.S. to pursue the same strategy used in Canada where a single-payer system was first adopted at the province level, eventually placing pressure on Canada's federal government to adopt a national health care system.

This, by no means, suggests that HR 3200 comes even close to representing meaningful reform...

As I noted in "Single Payer and the 'Democracy Deficit'," quoting Dr. David Himmelstein of Physicians for a National Health Program, a hybrid system with a "public option" plan will not solve the basic problem:

The proposed plan would realize only a small fraction – at most 16% – of the administrative cost savings that could be achieved through single-payer. That’s because insurance overhead – which might well be lower in a public option plan – accounts for a small part of the overall administrative costs of the current system. The need for hospitals and physicians to continue to bill dozens of different insurance plans would mean that their internal cost accounting and billing apparatus that causes most of the excess paperwork at present would continue.

H.R. 3200 could actually make matters worse.

Dr. Howard Dean, the former VT governor, DNC chairman and presidential candidate, favors the "public option" plan over "single-payer," though he also supports the Kucinich amendment. Dean told Amy Goodman that the U.S. already spends 70% more on health care than single-payer nations.

As Marcy Winograd, a progressive Democratic candidate for the Congressional seat now held by Rep. Jane Harmon (D-CA), notes in "Single Payers Crashing the Gates", the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) finds that the "hybrid" public option plan advanced by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) would increase federal outlays by a trillion dollars over ten years because most of taxpayer monies under the plan would go not to health care but to what I have called the unnecessary "parasites" --- for-profit insurance carriers and HMOs. According to Wendell Potter, a former CIGNA communications director turned whistleblower, the culprit includes Wall Street which demands a high return on its insurance company investments.

Winograd reports that this trillion dollar deficit "could only be offset by increased taxes, payment penalties for the uninsured, and cuts in Medicaid" and that at the "end of the decade, in 2019, under a private insurance/public option proposal, 36,000,000 Americans, as opposed to the current 45,000,000, would still be uninsured, according to the CBO."

Per Winograd:

Studies in California and Colorado have shown that a single payer system would save money for businesses, families, and government by eliminating private insurance overhead and creating enormous purchasing power that would drive down the costs of care.

When Winograd pressed the CBO, she was told that a comparative, public option vs. single-payer, budget analysis was not provided essentially because Congress has not requested it.

The failure of Congress to request the CBO provide such a comparative analysis should surprise no one given not only the perverse impact of corporate control of the media and the undue influence of corporate money and lobbying over whom we select as our "leaders," but a blatant conflict of interest which, if we were before a court of law, would compel a judge to recuse him or herself.

As revealed by Paul Kane of the Washington Post, 30 lawmakers involved in drafting health care legislation have a $15 million stake in the health care industry. The wife of Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) "serves on the boards of four health-care companies, receiving more than $200,000 in salary and stock from her service in 2008....The family of Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.)...held at least $3.2 million in more than 20 health-care companies at the end of last year....Harman, whose husband, Sidney, is the founder of electronics-maker Harman International Industries, is one of the wealthiest members of Congress, with a minimum net worth of almost $120 million."

In Thieves in High Places (2004), Jim Hightower observed:

The great majority of Americans make less than $50,000 a year; half make under $32,000....[N]early half of the people newly elected to Congress last year are millionaires. This is the personification of democracy?"

UPDATE 7/20/09: In a 7/20/09 e-mail PDA's Tim Carpenter states that Rep. Anthony Weiner, (D-NY) will today make a motion before the House Energy & Commerce Committee “to amend the current bill. His proposal is essentially to replace H.R. 3200 with H.R. 676—single payer Medicare for All." Carpenter has called for single-payer advocates to call or FAX members of the Energy & Commerce Committee: Phone: (202) 225-2927, Fax: (202) 225-2525. Henry Waxman (D-CA) is the chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee. The vote on the Weiner amendment may well frame an issue for Marcy Winograd's 2010 Democratic primary challenge of incumbent Jane Harmon (D-CA). Harmon serves on the Energy & Commerce Committee.

UPDATE #2, 7/20/09: A number of groups will be staging a July 30, 2009 rally in Washington DC to celebrate the 44th anniversary of Medicare and to lobby for single-payer legislation.

UPDATE, 7/21/09: Dan Eggan of The Washington Post reported that the health and insurance lobby "gave nearly $170 million to federal lawmakers in 2007 and 2008, with 54 percent going to Democrats..." Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) was the leading recipient of health care insurance sector funds.

UPDATE, 7/23/09: During his July 22, 2009 news conference, in responding to a question from MSNBC's Chuck Todd, President Obama conceded that the only way we can insure that every American has health care coverage is through a single-payer system.


Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California State Bar since 1977 and has practiced in the fields of civil litigation and workers' compensation at both the trial and appellate levels. He graduated cum laude from Southwestern University School of Law where he served as a student director of the clinical studies department and authored the Law Review Article, Executive Privilege: Myths & Realities. He received an MA in political science at Cal State University Northridge and a BA in political science from UCLA. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).