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Wednesday, Apr 1, 2009, 9:58 am

Weekly Pulse: Key Dems Back Public Option

By Lindsay Beyerstein
The chairs of five key congressional committees have finalized a plan for healthcare reform, and their blueprint includes a critical public option. The chairs' decision to support government-administered health insurance for everyone who wants it is sure to attract ferocious opposition from both the insurance industry and its patrons in the GOP.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also put single-payer healthcare on the agenda by introducing the American Health Security Act (AHSA) of 2009. John Nichols of The Nation describes the bill as an important piece of legislation. If AHSA became law, it would create a federal health insurance system administered by the states. The insurance program would give patients an unlimited choice of doctors and hospitals because their insurance would cover them everywhere. The proposed program would be financed by redirecting current healthcare spending and supplementing the total with a modest tax increase that would cost most consumers less than their current health insurance premiums.

As Ezra Klein of TAPPED explains in his public insurance primer, single payer healthcare is a step beyond the public option. Under single payer, the government is the sole supplier of health insurance, whereas, under the public option, consumers are allowed to choose public or private insurance. Public insurance will be cheaper and more comprehensive because the government will be able to use its vast bargaining power to lower prices. Also, U.S. government administered health insurance plans like Medicare and SCHIP consistently spend a smaller portion of their budgets on administrative costs than private insurers. Republican Congressional leaders are opposed to the public option because they fear that the private insurance industry won't be able to compete with government-administered insurance.

Dave Weigel, the Washington Independent's crack conservatologist, interviewed Rick Scott, the founder and principle funder of Conservatives for Patients Rights. CPR has been running ads nationwide warning that Obama is plotting a government takeover of healthcare. Scott also resigned from Colombia/RCA, a for profit-hospital corporation, in the middle of a $1.7 billion fraud investigation. Weigel asked Scott if he was concerned that his past might color public perceptions of his current healthcare advocacy:

TWI: People can still say, “Look, this was the guy who resigned in the biggest fraud settlement in American history.”

RICK SCOTT: But, you know, we were the biggest company. If you go back and look at the hospital industry, and the whole health care industry since the mid-1990s, it was basically constantly going through investigations. Great institutions, like ours, paid fines. It was too bad.

With all the talk about healthcare reform, it's easy to forget that there's more to health than insurance or the medical care it can provide. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! explored the bigger picture with Dr. Steven Bezruchka, a public health scientist who studies how inequality itself makes us sick.

Yesterday, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius had her first Senate confirmation hearing yesterday for the post of Secretary of Health and Human Services. As Emily Douglas of RH Reality Check notes, last week, Sebelius signed a bill into Kansas law that would force women to undergo medically unnecessary ultrasounds before obtaining abortions. The normally pro-choice Sebelius probably signed the bill to dodge controversy before her confirmation hearing, according to Dana Goldstein of TAPPED.

Agit prop ultrasounds are a favorite tool of anti-choice activists, who claim that the sight of the sonogram is necessary to informed consent. But women have been making decisions about abortions without sonogram assistance since the beginning of civilization. In practice, the ultrasounds are just another obstacle that anti-choicers throw in the path of abortion providers. It's disconcerting that Sebelius was willing to sign a frivolous law to ease her own confirmation.

RH Reality Check's Kay Steiger offers a first hand account of Sebelius's first day of confirmation hearings. The governor said she supports a public option for health insurance and opposes conscience clauses for healthcare providers who seek to deny women abortion and contraception on religious grounds.

Finally, members of Congress are engaged in last minute wrangling prior to a vote on Obama's budget. Democrats may try to use the budget reconciliation process to put healthcare reform to the Senate in a filibuster-proof format. (Due to an obscure rule , the Senate can pass a budget reconciliation with a simple majority, but only if the provisions in the budget are deemed to relate directly to spending and revenue.) Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo reports that Congressional Republicans are vehemently denouncing the reconciliation option. Surprise, surprise.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care. Visit for a complete list of articles on healthcare affordability, healthcare laws, and healthcare controversy. And for the best progressive reporting on the ECONOMY, and IMMIGRATION, check out, Immigration.NewsLadder.net and Economy.NewsLadder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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