Throughout the debate on passage, pollsters regularly found that the public wanted a “bipartisan solution” to health reform. Of course, no such solution was forthcoming if by bipartisan we mean something that attracts votes from members of both parties. As implementation moves forward, the partisan divide looks, if anything, to further grow.
The persistence of these bipartisan wishes suggests that many Americans do not fully appreciate the extent of the rightward shift in the Republican Party. This can clearly be seen in the standing of Republican Governor Charlie Crist of Florida, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate who recently decided to run as an independent after he was overtaken in the primary polls by tea-party favorite Marco Rubio. Crist, while less extreme than former governor Jeb Bush, is no liberal. But he finds no home for himself in today’s Republican party. Similarly, Utah Senator Robert Bennett is at risk of losing his party’s nomination to a challenger on his right, even though he has an 84 percent lifetime favorability rating from the American Conservative Union.
Another marker of this shift is the sharp contrast between the support for reform of recent Republican leaders such as former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist from the pronouncements of today’s party leaders. Even some of the moderate Republican governors who have been more supportive of reform—e.g. Connecticut’s Rell, and Schwarzenegger—are about to exit the political stage.
If the elections were held today, most projections show that the Republican Party, increasingly indistinguishable from the extreme far right, would claim a significant though not decisive victory, bringing into office a new crop of officials publicly committed to repeal of reform.
That’s the bad news.
The good news comes in two parts: a) Even if there is an electoral tsunami, the repeal strategy faces enormous hurdles and b) While the repeal torch burns as hot as ever for the true (un)believers, there is some indication of an upswing in support from the general public.
The latest Kaiser poll shows 49 percent of the public supports reform, compared to 40 percent who are opposed. Importantly, all of the early implementation provisions rack up big majorities among Republicans and Independents as well as Democrats.
The popularity of these measures muddies the message of the repealers–but only if people know about them. Educating the public about the early provisions of reform, then, is crucial not only to make sure that people get the new benefits, but to influence the future political environment in which reform will be implemented.
Insurance Rate Regulation and Beyond When it rains it pours for insurance giant Wellpoint. Last week it was outed for its aggressive policy of trying to dump women with breast cancer from its rolls. Then it withdrew its controversial proposal for a 39 percent premium rate increase in California, admitting that there were errors in its calculations but claiming those miscalculations were inadvertent. (In related news, the company has announced it will be putting the Brooklyn Bridge on the market to help recoup the revenue from the cancelled rate increase, but so far no buyer has stepped forward).
Even taking the company at its word, Wellpoint’s debacle illustrates the need for stronger rate oversight. Leaders of the Senate HELP committee continue to debate the options for moving the Feinstein rate oversight bill, S.3078, which also picked up an important endorsement from the American Cancer Society/Cancer Action Network. Companion legislation has been filed in the House by Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.
At the same time, advocates need to be mindful that strong oversight of insurance premiums is a necessary but not sufficient piece of the cost-containment puzzle. The anti-trust investigation into possible monopoly pricing by Partners Healthcare—the largest hospital system in Massachusetts—illustrates a pervasive problem in the U.S. health system. While it remains to be seen if there was anything actually illegal in Partners’ negotiating strategy, the issue of concentrated provider power is real and not confined to Massachusetts. (See this recent report on the effect of market power on health care costs in California.)
In fact, the high prices that we in the United States pay for health care across the board add much more to our high costs than do the mix or amount of services we use, as Ezra Klein shows here. On a series of charts comparing the prices U.S. insurers pay to those of other countries–regardless of procedure or number of appointments–“the block representing the prices paid by American health-insurance plans [looms] over the others like a New York skyscraper that got lost in downtown Des Moines.”
Sure, it’s fun to pick on the insurers, and certainly they deserve it. But we can’t approach cost-containment like the drunk looking for his keys under the streetlight–not because that’s where he dropped them, but because that’s where the light is. Going after the insurers may represent the low-hanging fruit, but the sustainability of health reform will depend on effective cost-containment–and that means taking a close, hard look at the delivery system.
–Michael Miller, director of strategic policy