Saturday, September 5

Does Congress Have the Reich Stuff?

Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's old Secretary of Labor and a pretty good economist in his own right (A graduate of Dartmouth College, Reich is a former Harvard University professor and the former Maurice B. Hexter Professor of Social and Economic Policy at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. He is currently Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Reich also serves on the board of directors of, and is a trustee of Economists for Peace and Security.), had this to say about health care reform:

1. I will not stand for a bill that leaves millions of Americans without health care. It's vitally important to cover all Americans, not only for their and their childrens' sakes and not only because it's a moral imperitive [sic], but because doing so will be good for all of us. One out of three Americans will experience job loss and potential loss of health insurance for themselves and their families at some point. One out of four of us who have health insurance is underinsured --unable to afford the preventive care we and our kids need on an ongoing basis. And those of us who don't get preventive care can get walloped with diabetes, heart disease, and other major illnesses that wipe us out financially, or force us into emergency rooms that all of us end up paying for.

2. The only way to cover all Americans without causing deficits to rise is to require that the wealthiest Americans pay a bit extra. The wealthy can afford to make sure all Americans are healthy. The top 1 percent of earners now take home 23 percent of total national income, the highest percentage since 1928. Their tax burden is not excessive. Even as income and wealth have become more concentrated than at any time in the past 80 years, those at the top are now taxed at lower rates than rich Americans have been taxed since before the start of World War II. Indeed, many managers of hedge funds, private-equity partners, and investment bankers -- including those who have been bailed out by taxpayers over the last year -- are paying 15 percent of their income in taxes because their earnings are, absurdly, treated as capital gains. We should eliminate this loophole as well, and use it to guarantee the health of all.

3. Finally, I want a true public insurance option -- not a "cooperative," and not something that's triggered if certain goals aren't met. A public option is critical for lowering health-care costs. Today, private insurers don't face enough competition to guarantee low prices and high service. In 36 states, three or fewer insurers account for 65 percent of the insurance market. A public insurance option would also have the scale and authority needed to negotiate low drug prices and low prices from medical providers. Commercial insurers now pay about 30 higher rates to providers than the government pays through Medicare, because Medicare has the scale to get those lower rates. A nationwide public option could get similar savings. And those savings would mean lower premiums, deductibles and co-payments for Americans who can barely afford health insurance right now.

Reich wrote a great column about the need for a public health-care plan in June, which is a must read.

The American public is decidedly split on what to do, but most agree reform is needed, though most don't want to foot the bill for the uninsured. The August Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates poll on "ATTITUDES TOWARD HEALTH CARE REFORM" shows that 79% of Independents, Democrats and Republicans favor "starting a new federal health insurance plan that individuals could purchase if they can’t afford private plans offered to them." However when asked to define what the public option means, only 37% of the respondents knew that it meant "Creating a government-funded insurance company that competes with existing private insurers to offer health coverage at market rates."

Coupled with this is the opinion that the single-payer system that has been proposed is likely to be D.O.A. with only 20% of all respondents strongly favoring such a plan. While 61% of Democrats support this plan, 18% of Republicans do and 34% of Independents.

The divide is wide, but for any real reform to happen, at a minimum, what Reich proposes needs to occur. The question is will the plan that President Obama is preparing for Congress going to incorporate Reich's ideas and make it clear what the public option is--we'd better hope so.

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