On Saturday, November 7, 2009, the House passed H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, to much celebration by the Democratic party. Healthcare-NOW!’s view, however, is that the House bill is a gift to the insurance industry at the further expense of the people of this nation.
The bill’s advocates claim it will cover an additional 36 million people, subsidize the cost of insurance for families up to 400% above the poverty level, increase Medicaid coverage to 150% above the poverty level, close the Medicare donut hole by 2019, place a surcharge on individuals making more than $500,000 and couples making more than $1,000,000, will end rescissions and pre-existing conditions.
What the Democrats fail to mention is the bill leaves millions of people uninsured, allows medical bankruptcies to persist, criminalizes and fines the uninsured, increases the number of underinsured, does nothing to contain the sky rocketing costs, blocks women from their reproductive rights, transfers massive public funds to private insurance companies strengthening their control over care, protects pharmaceutical companies’ superprofits at patient expense, fails to reclaim the 31% of waste in our system, expands Medicaid without regard to the state budget crises, discriminates based on immigration status and age, and sets up several levels of care covering less for those without the ability to pay. Those who have coverage will increasingly find care unaffordable and will go without. The whole system will inevitably fail from being fiscally unsustainable.
So is the House bill better than nothing?
“I don’t think so,” writes Marcia Angell, M.D., former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. “It simply throws more money into a dysfunctional and unsustainable system, with only a few improvements at the edges, and it augments the central role of the investor-owned insurance industry. The danger is that as costs continue to rise and coverage becomes less comprehensive, people will conclude that we’ve tried health reform and it didn’t work. But the real problem will be that we didn’t really try it. I would rather see us do nothing now, and have a better chance of trying again later and then doing it right.”
Given that the bill does nothing to contain or reduce rising costs or end the private health insurance industy’s dominance, we hoped that the Progressive Caucus would stand strong. But they did not. All but two of H.R. 676’s cosponsors voted for H.R. 3962 — Rep. Eric Massa [D-NY] and Rep. Kucinich [D-OH].
Rep. Massa stated, “At the highest level, this bill will enshrine in law the monopolistic powers of the private health insurance industry, period. There’s really no other way to look at it.”
Despite telling single-payer advocates that Congressman Weiner’s single-payer amendment could not go to vote because it would open the floodgates for regressive amendments on abortion and immigrant access, the Democratic leadership allowed votes on both. Prior to the vote on H.R. 3962, the Stupak Amendment passed that will prevent women receiving tax subsidies from using their own money to purchase private insurance that covers abortion and in many cases will prevent low-income women from accessing abortion entirely.
“The House of Representatives has dealt the worst blow to women’s fundamental right to self-determination in order to buy a few votes for reform of the profit-driven health insurance industry,” writes Terry O’Neill, President of National Organization for Women. “We must protect the rights we fought for in Roe v. Wade. We cannot and will not support a health care bill that strips millions of women of their existing access to abortion.”
Healthcare-NOW! fought to win a fair and open debate on healthcare reform including the merits of a single-payer system. This has not yet happened, but the advocacy for this system has greatly impacted the debate in meaningful ways.
We need to continue to build the grassroots movement for single-payer, not-for-profit, national healthcare. We look forward to much brain-storming at our upcoming national strategy conference in St. Louis this weekend, and the opportunity to move forward with renewed energy, creative ideas, and resolve.
Meanwhile, we have the opportunity NOW to continue to support the Sanders’ Single-Payer Amendment to be introduced in the U.S. Senate, Congressman Kucinich’s efforts to get the state single-payer amendment back in when the House and Senate bills are reconciled, and the efforts of the Mobilization for Health Care for All.
Thanks for all that you do,
Healthcare-NOW! National Staff and Steering Committee