Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Does This Mean?

Upon the release late yesterday of Sen. Max Baucus' so-called "compromise" health care plan, Alaska Sen. Mark Begich joined Senators Herb Kohl (D-WI), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Evan Bayh (D-IN), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in sending a letter to Baucus, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Here's their letter:

The Honorable Max Baucus
Chairman
Senate Finance Committee
219 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

First and foremost, we appreciate your tireless efforts to craft bipartisan health care reform legislation. In particular, we applaud your work to reduce the growth in health care spending.

As you know very well, the most important challenge we face in reforming the nation’s health care system is getting costs under control. Our country’s spending towers above other industrialized nations. We spend roughly $7300 per American per year while other developed countries spend an average of $2900, yet our health care quality is not any higher. These other countries’ experiences make it clear that the goal of quality, universal, and affordable health care is achievable.

The rapid growth in health spending impacts every American family, every business, as well as our government, and we must consider every option to reduce its ever growing burden. Problems in both private and government health care systems are rooted in these high costs, including our high rate of uninsured Americans and the future solvency of Medicare. Despite past efforts in Congress to lower the rise in health care expenditures, costs continue to skyrocket.

We recognize that tough choices must be made to achieve this goal. In the past, cutting costs has been difficult due to the powerful opposition of the many special interests whose profits would be affected. There are many, wide-ranging options to address the broad and complicated issue of runaway health care costs, and we pledge our support to you in making the necessary and tough decisions. This is our number one priority. If we pass health reform legislation without addressing the issue of health care spending, we will have failed.

Should an issue arise that we can be of help, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.


The only posting I can find on the web rates this letter as support of Baucus' proposal. I showed the letter to Judy. She doesn't feel it is support. We agree that it doesn't propose anything, and appears to be some vague reach toward somehow accommodating Baucus in some even more vague way.

For sure, there are other issues in play than the importance of legislation including the public option, although House legislation probably will not pass without public option inclusion. As the letter says, we need to find as many ways as possible to hold down medical costs.

Can anyone clue me in on what the letter really means?

16 comments:

HarpboyAK said...

I think that this is a letter of vague non-support, indicating that many things will have to be fixed before the signatories can support the bill.

I remember talking to Mark during the campaign about the Medicare "drug benefit" bill that turned out to benefit Pharma and the insurance companies. I'm thinking that they're trying to tell Baucus that negotiated drug prices HAVE to be included.

Most important, Alaskans need to let him and Lisa know NOW that in addition to negotiated drug prices, they need to get rid of any mandate requiring insurance unless there is a robust public option.

As a cancer survivor, I have been victimized by insurance companies for years, and I REFUSE TO PAY ANY OF THOSE MURDER-BY-SPREADSHEET COMPANIES ONE CENT. If the IRS tries to take it from me, there is no jury in this country that would convict someone who has been the victim of insurance company discrimination for years!

funkalunatic said...

I think it means Begich is being handled.
"Here Senator, sign this. It's smart politics."

CGinWI said...

I don't think it's simply support. This section struck me as as significant.

"In the past, cutting costs has been difficult due to the powerful opposition of the many special interests whose profits would be affected. There are many, wide-ranging options to address the broad and complicated issue of runaway health care costs, and we pledge our support to you in making the necessary and tough decisions."

My translation: "The special interests are fighting real reform. We will support you where you manage to stand up to them."

I have no idea how committed any of the signers really are to this stance. Herb Kohl might be ready to hang tough on it

Phil said...

Does it bother anyone else that politicians can't seem to make a simple declarative statement in plain English, or that the purpose of most of what they say is to conceal information instead of conveying it?

My point is, "just say what you mean, guys." Please.

Freshwrestler said...

The letter says I am keeping my options open depending on which way the wind blows and the money flows. Also I would like to continue to have lobbyist visit and drop off $$$. It says I am not a leader and would rather just watch because I have 5 more years until I have to face an election.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that you and your readers take this seriously--and it can't be taken seriously.

I'm not saying anyone is wrong for treating health "insurance" reform seriously or expecting their representatives to treat it seriously.

But I do think when we are faced with an intellectually-messed up missive such as the example above, we are wrong to attempt to decipher it as if it can be deciphered seriously.

It should be marked: return to sender.

For one thing, it's divisive among us who probably agree on most points to try to do so. What happens is exactly what happened here. People extracting from one paragraph get entirely different interpretations--neither of which is necessarily a wrong interpretation.

Begich is pointing out to Max Baucus, one of the biggest beneficiaries of health insurance slush in the Senate, that there is corrupting slush in the Senate, then saying he unconditionally supports Baucas. Then, faced with criticism from his constituency in any direction, Begich can pivot away from it in any direction. Perfect! Except, this is entirely flawed.

-Yusef

clark said...

agree completely with freshwrestler.

KaJo said...

These phrases...

...The rapid growth in health spending impacts every American family, every business, as well as our government, and we must consider every option to reduce its ever growing burden...

..We recognize that tough choices must be made to achieve this goal. In the past, cutting costs has been difficult due to the powerful opposition of the many special interests whose profits would be affected...

...If we pass health reform legislation without addressing the issue of health care spending, we will have failed...

...Should an issue arise that we can be of help, please do not hesitate to reach out to us...


...seem, to me, to indicate these Senators are telling Sen. Baucus in subtle terms that he better abandon his wishy-washy pro-special-interest stance and get honest about the problem and what needs to be done about it.

You're right, Phil, plain speaking is apparently reserved for the anti-reform people. The ones who want reform are still being polite, circumspect, kind, understanding, agreeable.

The tactics President Johnson used on Congress re: Medicare have been mentioned when discussing how to best convince this Congress to vote for reform. Sounds good to me -- but who might channel the spirit of Johnson? The best choice was buried a couple of weeks ago...

Anonymous said...

means he is a pussy or a whore for the pharma/insurance companies. remember he is a real estate agent

ArmchairJane said...

I agree with KaJo. I think these Senators are saying they MUST find a way to cut spending, while acknowledging that it will be "tough", especially with the powerful special interests.

They do declare that the effort will be a failure if a package is passed that fails to do this.

It seems all observers who are reporting on this say Congress has to pass SOMETHING, or they will pay at the polls.

As an aside, I think most in Congress DO realize that as coverage of the 912 protesters wanes, that polls show clear majorities want reform, including a public option.
I think the 912 protesters did themselves a disservice by trying to inflate the crowd numbers, as well as by carrying the kinds of signs they did which showed many of them to have no overall coherent position. Showing themselves for who they are at a key time in the debate was probably an error if they want to stop reform.

The senators on this list are all fiscally conservative/deficit hawks, as far as I know, but I think in this case the concern extends not just to the deficit, but to OVERALL health care spending, both public and private. It seems the only way to reduce overall costs is by introducing some real competition against the insurance and drug companies.

Several of these senators are also from industrial states that have really been hit hard, and where it is clear that continuing to tie insurance to jobs is not going to help laid-off workers, and some of their biggest industries would benefit in the global marketplace by not having to directly shoulder health care costs while their competitors in other countries don't have that direct burden. Those senators have a real incentive to promote some sort of universal plan.

Note that they also mention other countries: "These other countries’ experiences make it clear that the goal of quality, universal, and affordable health care is achievable."

"Universal" being a very key word, I think.

So I think the letter is saying, hey Max, we feel your pain buddy, but just passing a bill will NOT be enough, and yes, we know the special interests are fighting it.

The key piece comes, as it often does, at the end of the letter, where they reiterate/clarify what they are really saying:

"we pledge our support to you in making the necessary and tough decisions. This is our number one priority. If we pass health reform legislation without addressing the issue of health care spending, we will have failed."

This is what they mean: something significant must come out of this that will REALLY lower overall costs. Public option, NOT limiting Congress from negotiating lower prices for pharmaceuticals bought for large plans, could be examples.

They wind up by telling Max that IF he will come up with something tough, that would really work, but that will draw opposition, they are willing to stand with him at that point.

Essentially "we feel your pain, but we have to do this, or we fail. We have got your back IF you try for something significant that actually reins in overall spending."

I also think this letter implies that they want actual "health CARE" reform. Not just "health insurance" reform, which is what this bill had been turning into, with a more narrow focus on pre-existing conditions, not getting your policy canceled as soon as you get some expensive condition, etc.

Phil, I agree, I agree it would be nice if it said what it means. It seems the audience is not the public, but perhaps really the other senators and their staff, who do much of the legwork. And of course the special interests.

Philip Munger said...

Thanks for he interesting comments. This letter may b less significant than some of us think...

Bill said...

It is one of those statements politicians make to show that they are with you even as they seek to to state that they are not with you,

http://wasillaalaskaby300.squarespace.com/

Anonymous said...

Oct 20 is the big day for Mark

Curiouser said...

The letter comes from an interesting group. The Stand with Dr. Dean whipcount on the public option lists Begich, Bayh & Pryor as "Maybe".
Klobuchar, McCaskill, Kohl are "Yes" on the public option.

http://www.standwithdrdean.com/whipcount-results

Anonymous said...

Phil,
How about a countdown on your website to Mark's financial disclosure?

Anonymous said...

Bill O'Reilly supports a public option

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/17/bill-oreilly-backs-public_n_290658.html

Mark Begich does not?