After months of legislative deliberation aimed at forging a bipartisan health care bill that began by ejecting single-payer advocates from his hearing room, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) unveiled his committee’s health care bill today with zero Republican support. Baucus’s bill — which former Cigna executive Wendell Potter has referred to as “an absolute gift” to the health insurance industry — includes no public option, an individual insurance mandate, and the creation of health care co-ops.
While a number of Democrats immediately rose in opposition to Baucus’s bill — Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said it has “no legitimacy,” outspoken single-payer advocate Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) declared it “dead on arrival,” and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) flatly refused to support it — one Democrat, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), praised the bill today:
“It’s a good product,” Conrad said on CNBC. “It is an attempt by the chairman to lay out what he thinks reflects best the discussions over this extended period of time. And I think the chairman has done a good job of capturing where the talks are at this point.” [...]
“Many of the concerns that our Republican colleagues raised have been included in the chairman’s proposal,” he said, citing provisions in the bill on abortion funding, coverage for illegal immigrants, and taxes on high-value insurance plans.
Conrad’s support for Baucus’s health care bill is unsurprising, given the fact that it includes his co-op proposal that he introduced shortly after a meeting with the nation’s largest insurer and health reform opponent UnitedHealth Group. BusinessWeek reported on the meeting last month:
UnitedHealth is generally well received in legislative circles in Washington. In late May its in-house point man on reform, Simon Stevens, hand-delivered a report to key senators detailing ways to save an estimated $540 billion in federal spending over 10 years. A week later, on June 4, Stevens accompanied UnitedHealth’s chief executive, Stephen J. Hemsley, to a meeting with Senator Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), an influential moderate member of the Senate Finance Committee. Conrad has since led an effort to create nonprofit medical cooperatives that would operate much like utility co-ops as a substitute for a federally run plan. With less heft than a proposed national plan, the state medical cooperatives would pose a far weaker competitive threat to private insurers.
Conrad’s links to the health care industry don’t stop there. For the 2010 election cycle, the health care industry has donated over half a million dollars to the senator, and his former chief of staff Robert Van Heuvelen is now a lobbyist for the American Health Care Association.
As the Huffington Post’s Roy Sekoff told Ed Schultz last night, if the Baucus bill is anything, it is health insurers getting “what they paid for with the three million dollars they’ve donated to Baucus since 2003.”
Last night former governor and health care advocate Howard Dean blasted the Baucus bill while speaking at a health care town hall. He told the audience, “The Baucus bill is the worst piece of healthcare legislation I’ve seen in 30 years. In fact, it’s a $60 billion giveaway to the health insurance industry every year. It was written by healthcare lobbyists, so that’s not a surprise. It’s an outrage.”