healthroundtable

It’s another pivotal week for your chances to get affordable health care in the near future. The Senate Finance Committee is expected to roll out its plan for a system-wide overhaul this week. That’s key because Finance has been the central battleground for getting a bipartisan bill—and things don’t look good for getting one.

The president remains fixated on convincing Republicans to play along with his proposal to create a public plan to compete alongside private insurers. Their primary objection has been that a public plan would put private ones out of business—an argument that, if true, suggests private insurers are as inefficient, unfair and overpriced as they appear to be. Of course, nobody but Congress takes this argument seriously anyway. A New York Times/CBS poll released this weekend found a whopping 72 percent of Americans support creating a public plan, including half of people who call themselves Republicans.

Congress nonetheless remains in the pocket of health care industry lobbyists. And it’s not just Republicans. Indeed, for all the talk of a bipartisan bill, at this point the real hold up is, once again, self-proclaimed “moderate” Democratic senators. ASSOCIATED PRESS reports:

Democrats want to push ahead as far as they can before the July 4 congressional recess. Over the break, comments from constituents could determine whether Congress sticks to its goal of passing legislation this summer.

Both sides are nervous. Some Democrats say they doubt the plan has enough Democratic support to clear the Senate.

“I think there’s a lot of concern in the Democratic caucus,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union."

How defying the will of three-quarters of American voters can be called "moderate" is beyond me. It’s time we start calling these purported moderates the radicals that they are.

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Schumer has been leading negotiations between GOP members and Dems who solidly back Obama’s proposal. But AP reports that a compromise that would have created nonprofit co-ops rather than a public plan has fallen apart. “Right now, this co-op idea doesn’t come close to satisfying anyone who wants a public plan,” Schumer said yesterday.

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office handed industry and its congressional backers a new nay-saying talking point: the plan’s price tag would be far higher than predicted.

Obama will offer a symbolically deft (if substantively weak) rejoinder today. The WASHINGTON POST reports that AARP and the pharmaceutical industry have agreed to a deal in which the drug companies would spend $80 billion to shrink the Medicare “doughnut hole”—or, the coverage gap that forces seniors to pay for their own meds after hitting a $2,700 cap, until catastrophic coverage kicks in at $6,100. The drug companies have agreed to underwrite a 50 percent discount on brand name meds for seniors in the doughnut hole. Obama and congressional Dems will present the deal as an effort to reduce the taxpayers’ burden of reform.

Never mind that the drug companies are the ones who furiously lobbied to create the coverage gap in the first place. Never mind that consumer advocates and researchers warned at the time that the gap would undermine the drug benefit. Never mind that Big Pharma has now compromised on this point—if marking down overpriced brand names that should have never been left uncovered in the first place can be called a compromise—because its real goal is to block any new public plan’s ability to negotiate fair drug prices. We’ll call it progress despite all these ugly facts, ’cause that’s what one does in Washington when nobody has the guts to stand up to an industry that three quarters of Americans want fixed.

—KAI WRIGHT