Friday, August 28, 2009

Bob Bennett Wants to Turn "Control of Our Health Insurance System Over to the Government"–-Say What?

That’s what the Club for Growth is saying about Senator Bob Bennett’s health care proposals.

Apparently, the Club for Growth has a reading comprehension problem. Or, are they just trying to twist the truth about the Utah Republican's health care efforts? The Wyden-Bennett Healthy Americans Act has to be the most pro-market health care reform proposal on the table.

First, it does not have the controversial public health care plan option that the pending Democratic health care legislation does have. Every one of the health insurance plans that would be offered under Bennett’s bill would be a private plan.

The Wyden-Bennett plan also puts the value of any employer-provided health plan in the hands of the consumer. Employers can keep their plans and employees can remain in them. But consumers can also take the cash and go purchase any plan available.

For a long time, conservatives have suggested putting the value of health care plans in the hands of consumers, so they could use the money to buy the kind of plan that works for them, as well as changing the tax code as Wyden-Bennett does to facilitate that.

Senator Bennett’s bill also creates a health insurance exchange where consumers could go to compare policies and pick the one that is right for them but that is hardly a proposal for government to take over the health care system.

Likely the truth the Club for Growth is trying to twist has its roots in this: The conservative Heritage Foundation has been critical of the design of these insurance exchanges in Wyden-Bennett because they rely on the use of a standard plan. As they put it, “standardization undermines personal choice and market innovation.” I think that is a valid criticism of a bill that is by no means perfect in its original form.

But that is a long way from condemning Senator Bennett’s efforts to find a way to accomplish bipartisan health care reform as promoting “a government takeover.” As the conservative Heritage Foundation put it in their review of the bill:
“By introducing the Healthy Americans Act (S. 334), Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and his chief co-sponsor, Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT), have courageously challenged the status quo on the federal tax treatment of health insurance and public health programs for the poor. The bill correctly targets the inequitable tax treatment of health care that favors coverage obtained through the place of work. It also recognizes the weakness of the existing public health programs, Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The bipartisan bill has attracted a dozen co-sponsors, drawn equally from both parties.

“Still, as the chief sponsors point out, the bill is a work in progress, intended to stimulate discussion. And despite many attractive tax reform aspects, a troubling feature of the bill is that it would replace the current health system with one that is heavily regulated by the federal government: Individuals would have access only to plans permitted by the government and would be required to purchase such a plan.”
A “courageous” attempt at reform that Bennett and all of the other authors agree is a “work in progress” is hardly a reason for the Club for Growth to condemn good faith efforts.

The Club for Growth also claims that Bennett is sponsoring the bill with "liberal Democrats." The Wyden-Bennett bill has such “liberals” co-sponsoring it as Republicans Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

Here are what these Senator’s and their co-sponsors for the Wyden-Bennett bill recently said in a Washington Post op-ed piece:
“The Democrats among us accepted an end to the tax-free treatment of employer-sponsored health insurance; instead, everyone—not just those who currently get insurance through their employer—would get a generous standard deduction that they would use to buy insurance—and keep the excess if they buy a less expensive policy.

“The Republicans agreed to require all individuals to have coverage and to provide subsidies where necessary to ensure that everyone can afford it. Most have agreed to require employers to contribute to the system and to pay workers wages equal to the amount the employer now contributes for health care.”
Legislating is about give and take. I expect Senator Bennett would favor a health insurance market more like the one the Heritage Foundation has outlined. But for this kind of effective leadership, and not having the perfect bill, the Club for Growth says Bob Bennett is in favor of government control of health care?

If we had more Senators like Bob Bennett conservative ideas for modernizing America’s health care system, like turning massive health care purchasing power over to consumers and creating a health insurance supermarket, would be making even more progress.

Bob Bennett deserves a lot better than this cheap shot by people who were supposedly his friends!
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