What’s a Good Source for Understanding the Health Care Bill?

confused womanNow THAT’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it?  But that’s what my friend Susan (aka WhyMommy) from Toddler Planet asked me  and I didn’t have a good answer at the ready.

Sure, you can read the original 615 page bill if you’re battling insomnia. Oh, and don’t forget to search for the boxes upon boxes of amendments that have gotten tacked on, too.

Aside from the actual language of the bill, there are some things important to understand in this battle — and yes, it is a battle.

Insurance companies, and the legislators who take money from them, want you to think they’re protecting competition by opposing the current legislation.  They are not.  Competition should be a great thing, right?  It’s supposed to keep prices down and keep companies honest.  That works unless you have an industry that’s become a monopoly.  Like cable TV and satellite radio companies, insurance doesn’t have a lot of competition and at this stage of the game they’re not trying to protect competition, they’re afraid of losing money.  If they really want competition, why would they be afraid of another option — public or otherwise?

A recent report shows how much the Bush administration has contributed to our somewhat desperate health care situation by running a Justice Department that permitted and blessed merger after merger that did nothing but reduce insurance industry competition.  Why is no one in the mainstream media picking up on this angle?

Fortunately, when WhyMommy tweeted her question about where to look for a reader-friendly alternative to the massive bill itself, another friend, Kristen from Mommy Needs a Cocktail responded with this link from the Congressional Budget Office, which gives a bottom line cost.  Also, take a look at a similar summary from the AARP.

And my fellow MOMocrat Melissa pointed to the summaries from the House committees involved in working on health care reform.

Who says moms in the blogosphere aren’t political?

If you poke around on the web, you can find even more summaries like these.  But those opposing the bill are hoping you won’t.  Some people don’t WANT us to understand this bill.  They’re hoping that we’ll just listen to the talking heads (or as I like to call them, the shouting heads) and be alarmed when the uber-right wingers falsely claim that the health care bill is really just about abortion funding and encouraging sick, elderly people to die sooner.

When it comes to offering viable alternatives from the Republican view, I only hear crickets chirping.  The GOP doesn’t seem to be doing anything constructive to help the millions upon millions of people who just need to be able to see doctors for themselves and their children without going into personal bankruptcy.

As for the Democrats, yesterday, Senator Harry Reid’s office facilitated a conference call with Senators Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez to talk about efforts the Democrats are making to ensure that this legislation doesn’t “wither in the vine,” especially as a result of the pending August recess.  Senator Schumer says that the Senate Finance committee is planning on announcing a bipartisan agreement on the bill by September 15th, and according to Schumer, it will be focus on three things:

“First is bundling. [I included the link — it was not in the original transcript of the conference call.] The intention of the committee to begin a slow, but steady move away from the fee-for-service model that’s at the root of rising costs in the health care system. And until we get away from fee-for-service and find a better way of paying, we’re not going to reduce costs as much as we need to. And that’s where our focus has been, and bundling is one way to do it.

Second is accountable care organizations. This is going to make doctors more accountable for quality and cost. And that’s a lot better than creating an incentive for increasing the volume of services.

Third, value-based purchasing. We’re going to look at episodes of care, emphasize best practices to make sure hospitals and doctors are being rewarded for things based on health — health outcomes. And there’s a lot of consensus, as I mentioned, on this among both Democrats and Republicans. It’s bringing us closer and closer to a bipartisan agreement.”

Something has to change to provide decent health care for everyone.  Short of taking away our lawmakers’ health insurance and forcing them to live the lives of many of their constituents to convince them of this, wouldn’t an actual bipartisan compromise make sense?

UPDATE: Make sure you check out the additional informational links the commenters are leaving!

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8 Responses to “What’s a Good Source for Understanding the Health Care Bill?”

  1. Erin Cochran Says:

    We were happy to facilitate the call yesterday. Thanks Joanne.

    You’re right that it can be tough to find one comprehensive, easy-to-understand document summarizing the legislation as it stands now.

    The HELP Committee’s doc, however, provides a good topline overview and a section by section narrative: http://help.senate.gov/Maj_press/2009_07_15_b.pdf

    Hope that’s helpful!

  2. Julie Says:

    I also found the Newsweek cover story about Sen. Ted Kennedy’s efforts to reform health care to be quite helpful. While somewhat partisan as it was written by Kennedy himself, it does give a solid history of the attempts at reform and lines up what exactly needs to be changed and what parts of these bills absolutely cannot be compromised. Check it out at http://www.newsweek.com/id/207406. Hope it helps!

  3. Karen Says:

    Thanks for posting this Joanne…it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for. God bless you!

  4. PunditMom Says:

    Erin & Julie, Thanks for the additional links!

  5. Chris Wysocki Says:

    I make my living in the insurance industry and I can assure you that competition is alive and well here. Furthermore, unlike our Representatives and Senators, we are reading this proposed legislation. We have actuaries and lawyers going over it with a fine-toothed comb.

    Perhaps you will dismiss what I have to say as simply the biased view of an insurance company lackey, but we have families and children too (and some of my colleagues are moms!) and we want what is best for them as much as you do for your families.

    BTW, I agree with your jibe at Congress for not including themselves in whatever public option plan they devise. But they have a long and sordid history of exempting themselves from the mandates they impose on the rest of us so don’t hold your breath waiting for them to come around on health care.

    In general terms I’ll point out that neither the text of the House Bill nor the “bipartisan” Senate Compromise actually matches up with the flowery rhetoric of President Obama. The devil is always in the details and there are a lot of details to be hashed out. Both bills firmly put our nation onto a path toward single-payer health care. Both bills encourage the making of “hard choices” with regard to end of life care. Both bills increase health care spending at a time when our nation is mired in a recession and deficits are escalating exponentially.

    Speaking now as “just me” (ie, not as a representative of any insurance company) I’d say there is plenty of reform that could be implemented without revamping the nation’s entire health care delivery system. We already have 2 arguably single-payer health plans – Medicare and the VA – and neither can be held up as a model of efficiency and effectiveness. Single payer is not the way to go. People deserve choices.

    For starters, there should be less regulation and fewer mandates. Every state (and some cities) mandate various “free” coverages which must be included in every health plan. Those mandates drive up costs. For example, until just very recently, Medicare paid for Viagra. Why?

    State regulations prohibit plans from soliciting new members across state lines which creates captive markets (only large employers, unions, and the government are exempt). Captive markets and onerous regulatory compliance issues increase costs too.

    The rush to reform the health care system has me worried. Health care related expenditures make up one sixth of our economy. Caution ought to be the watchword when revamping something this far-reaching.

  6. Emily Says:

    While I have my misgivings, the fact that both AARP and the AMA endorse it (which they never have before) is pretty meaningful. I heard an AMA rep on NPR several weeks ago, and what they said is that they are endorsing it because it is a starting point.

    And it is pretty funny heairng (like the poster above) about the “rush” to health reform. Ummmm – how is 14 years and counting “rushing”????

  7. Cloud Says:

    Thanks for the info!

    @Chris Wysocki- I don’t think anyone should dismiss your input just because you work for the insurance industry. I think it is often the industry insiders who can help explain what will and will not work- by this I mean the “little people” working in the industry, not the lobbyists and PR firms hired by the companies.

    I work in the pharma/biotech industry and I am often astounded by the reforms people propose for my industry and by the incredible “evil-ness” that gets ascribed to us. Yeah, our companies aren’t perfect, and sometimes they do the wrong thing. But the people working here have families, too, just like you say. We aren’t some sort of evil cabal.

    However- the competition of which you speak is a weird sort of competition. Insurance companies aren’t competing to insure me, because I only get to choose between a limited number of plans offered by my company. They are competing to get my company to offer their plans, and that competition is therefore not necessarily on the things that matter to me.

    I am a life-long democrat. I desperately want to see reform of some sort pass this time around. I am embarrassed by the state of our health care system when I interact with my many friends and colleagues from other parts of the world. I embarrassed of the way the care a person receives depends so strongly on their income and I want to see a minimum standard of care for everyone. But I’m not too thrilled with what I’ve seen emerge from congress so far, and I’m hoping it gets better.

    I don’t care if we have a “public option” or not, as long as we find our way to full coverage. If that is done with private insurance and individual mandates to purchase (with help for those who can’t afford it), I’m fine with that. I also don’t think the “public option” will spell doom for the insurance industry. In a lot of countries with government provided health care, people choose to purchase private insurance as well, to allow them access to quicker elective surgeries, more choices on drugs, etc. Heck, even people in this country who are on medicare often choose to purchase “supplemental” insurance.

    I’m sick of the scare-tactics around “rationing”. Most of us already have rationed care, in that we rarely choose to do something our insurance won’t pay for. I’m OK with that. I don’t really care whether it is a government bureaucrat or an insurance industry bureaucrat who implements the rationing, as long as there is good oversight and a mechanism by which the decisions are made based on medical data, not just cost data.

    Finally, I am disappointed by the idea that we pay for this reform solely by taxing the rich. Why shouldn’t we all help pay for this? Go ahead, tax my company-provided health care. Just phase it in so that I have time to adjust my family finances accordingly. And sure, hit the wealthier among us a little harder than the rest. I actually think this tax might do us all some good, and help us move towards a system where my company pays me some of the money they save on benefits and I take that and shop for the insurance that is right for me from a wide range of options, and not just from the options that my company decided they could afford to offer.

    I think about my opinions on health care, and listen to the talk coming out of Washington, and wonder if I’m really a democrat anymore. My party sure seems afraid to go out and argue for what makes sense to me. But then I listen to the Republicans and their scare tactics about reform, and I’m sure I don’t fit in with them, either. Where are the sensible people willing to stand up, make the hard arguments, and try to lead us towards a better solution?

  8. EmmieJ Says:

    You raise a very good point about the challenge of finding good, concise information on the policy proposals (as opposed to the politics) being set forth on health care. In addition to the sites offered above, the Kaiser Family Foundation has a great deal of information about health care reform at the state and federal levels, including this side-by-side comparison of the bills (http://www.kff.org/healthreform/upload/healthreform_tri_full.pdf) which gets updated with some regularity.

    I think your commenters raise some good points as well. Though it is easy (and sometimes totally fair) to bash insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies, health reform must be about more than cutting private sector profits. Across the board (meaning among patients, physicians & other health care providers), hospitals, insurers, employers, etc.) our current health care system does a bad job of aligning financial and other incentives with high quality, efficient, modern care.

    We’ve got some big decisions to make on how to best deliver health care in the country. Access to information – not fear mongering or wishful thinking – will be critical to getting this right. Thanks for providing a resource for people who are looking to do just that.

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