Sen. Bob Corker's visit Monday to Chattanooga to tell us what's wrong with the health care reform bill passed by Democrats and the Obama administration, without Republican help, is rich in malicious irony - an irony bred in long, deep and unyielding Republican resistance to a truly comprehensive and fair universal health system.
His doomsday criticism about the future cost of caring for people laid off from work or victimized by benefit cuts in the Great Recession handed to us by the prior Republican administration is appalling. His laying blame on health care reform is akin to a gunslinger shooting an innocent victim in the foot and then complaining that the victim can't dance very well. We have to wonder how short Sen. Corker's memory has become, or how politically cynical he has become.
In the health care reform debate that consumed the better part of a year, Republicans repeatedly denied every decent proposal for a better system and a vastly superior reform bill.
Many doctors - and many Americans - wanted, and still want, a public option insurance plan that would allow every citizen the right to buy into a truly nonprofit national health-insurance plan administered like Medicare, or even as an arm of Medicare. With barely half of employees in Tennessee still provided an employer-based plan, such an option would be a honest-to-God life-saver for many working Tennesseans and their families. But what do Republicans care? They fought it tooth-and-nail, and killed it. What we got instead was state-by-state insurance exchanges.
A core group of physicians across the country is still demanding a bona fide single-payer system, which would cut our national health care costs approximately in half by reducing for-profit insurers' rich overhead spread, by bargaining with Big Pharma for prescription drug prices like those every other industrial nation gets (one-half to one-third of what Americans pay), and by levying a fair health care tax adjusted for income for a public-option plan.
To confirm the savings figures, Google the OECD international comparisons of the quality universal health care plans that all other industrial nations provide, most at roughly half the per-capita GDP costs of our pot-holed system, i.e., 8 to 9 percent for universal systems vs. 17 percent of GDP for health care in America. Plus, our inequitable system now leaves 50 million Americans without a health care insurance safety net of any kind, not even Medicaid.
Sen. Corker stood solidly with his Party of No's monolithic resistance to more comprehensive reform, and against putting regulatory reins on private insurers and the pharmaceutical and ancillary medical industries.
Why? Put simply, Republicans are in bed with health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and all their rich CEOs and upper-echelon managers who make a bundle by denying care (death panels anyone?) and charging bandit prices for prescription drugs, medical devices and virtually every ancillary medical service.
These companies are heavy contributors to Republican candidates and the party's campaign coffers, and they all want to kill reform. So compliant Republicans are now planning to dismantle the administration's bill piecemeal by refusing to fund critical portions if they capture a majority in Congress. All their talking points about health care now go to the weaknesses that they drove into the new reform bill. Indeed, their "repeal and replace" mantra has become a core part of their campaign agenda - never mind the public interest in a more equitable health care system.
That is why it is so perverse for Sen. Corker to stage a press conference here at BlueCross BlueShield's new hilltop palace to complain that up to one out of three Tennesseans could wind up on the state's Medicaid plan once the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act takes full effect in 2014. That's not the plan's fault; it's the fault of low-wage jobs and Republicans' trickle-down economics.
Neither is it the plan's fault that both private and nonprofit insurance companies (including our BlueCross) have cruelly decided to drop their child-only policies. They made that decision because they can no longer exclude children with pre-existing conditions. Their economic practice of cherry-picking the healthy and leaving the sick to wither or die takes cruel precedence over flat community rates and real insurance for all. Without mandated community ratings, that's our health care race to the bottom in a nutshell.
So far, the insurance reform pieces that have taken effect, by the industry's own figures, add just 1 to 1.5 percent costs to insurance coverage - a negligible figure relative to their usual double-digit increases for same-benefit policies. These valuable reforms end exclusions for pre-existing conditions and lifetime coverage limits, prohibit insurers from dropping coverage for people who become ill, make routine preventive care free of charge, allow children to remain on parents' policies until the age of 26, and establish high-risk pool coverage.
When the full program takes effect in 2014, the new act will expand Medicaid coverage to children, pregnant women, parents and adults with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty limit. Corker fears the cost of this because it will cover so many working people in Tennessee, where, according to his own figures, the average household income (in 2008) was just $43,000.
By contrast, Corker and his Party of No want to keep the Bush-era tax cuts for the nation's richest 2 percent, for whom the average income is $8 million, though that will cost the country $700 billion over the next 10 years. Where's the fairness?
If Corker and other Republicans wanted to do ordinary Americans a great service to keep them from running out of health care options, he, and they, would seek to improve the reform bill by adopting a voluntary single-payer, nonprofit public option for health care with income-adjusted premiums, an emphasis on wellness and a new, salaried medical infrastructure for care providers.
A majority of Americans would snap it up, and health costs for the public at large would decline to affordable levels. That would be much better than blaming our first partial reform act for the cost of coverage for the middle-class Americans who are rapidly losing employer-based insurance on account of a greedy, out-of-control, profit-driven health care industry.