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Monday, November 02, 2009

Republicans Promise a Healthcare Reform Bill... Again

Stop the presses! Republicans have an alternate healthcare reform plan... Well, maybe "have" is the wrong word. They don't actually have a plan, but they're gonna -- you just wait and see.

Agence France-Presse:

A leading Republican Congressman said Sunday that his party would present by the end of the week its own plan for health care reform, one of President Barack Obama's top domestic priorities.

House Minority leader John Boehner spoke after Obama's top allies on Thursday unveiled sweeping compromise legislation, including a government-backed insurance plan to compete with private firms.

"By the end of this week, people will be able to look at one proposal" that provides transparent cost figures and clearly states the number of people to be covered, Boehner told CNN.

"Boehner declined to give details on the Republican proposal," AFP reports, "but said it would not increase taxes, cut existing government programs for the poor and elderly, or have 'mandates on individuals or businesses.'"

Republicans have a history of being sketchy on the details. In March, Republicans released an "alternative budget" that didn't actually include any numbers. Math is hard, you see, and it's much easier just to say you've got a budget that will reduce the deficit while cutting taxes than it is to actually reduce the deficit while cutting taxes. So the GOP just declared it so.

It was in this "budget" that we got our first glimpse of the Republican Healthcare plan:

Nonsense chart

"It's like someone showed them a flowchart," wrote Ezra Klein. "Once. And only for a few seconds. And refused to explain it." Not surprisingly, this whole numberless budget idea didn't go over very well. The GOP caught a lot of flack for trying to pull one over on the public -- rightly. It's insulting that this is just how stupid they believe everyone is.

Not having learned their lesson from the numberless budget, Republicans then released an equally foggy healthcare reform alternative in June.

ABC News:

House Republicans unveiled an outline of their healthcare reform plan at a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday.

The broad-stroke plan, given to reporters as a three-and-a-half page summary, lacked details or a cost estimate.

The Republicans promised those would come later.

Once again, no numbers, no hard data. Boehner didn't so much release a healthcare reform plan as he did a to-do list. They would have a detailed healthcare reform plan later -- absolutely, Scout's Honor."I will guarantee you we will bring you a bill that costs far less, far less than the Democrats and will provide better results for the American people," promised Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), the chairman of the House GOP's Healthcare Solutions Working Group.

But a Republican "guarantee" wasn't worth much. By July, that offer was pulled. "Late Wednesday, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the House GOP Health Care Solutions Group, said House Republicans would not release a health care reform alternative," wrote Steve Benen. "Despite several weeks of promises about a superior plan, Blunt said the minority party's focus was on attacking the Democratic plan, and there was no need to 'confuse the focus' or 'divert attention.'"

24 hours after Blunt's statement, the promise of a GOP alternative was back. "We're continuing to put the final touches on our bill as the Democrats are continuing to put the finishing touches on their bill," John Boehner said. Months later, that bill they were just polishing up still isn't finished. But it will be, don't you worry. It'll be out this week and this time for sure.

I don't have many doubts that this time it's for real. The GOP has been written off in the healthcare debate and they aren't under any real pressure anymore to produce anything -- that's what got them off the dime the last few times. There's no panic to poduce a bill, so there's no reason to pretend they've got one. Still, you never know. No one ever went broke betting that Republican leadership would be hamhanded and irrational.

But the bill won't be much to write home about. The two ideas Republicans have managed to come up with so far are both bad. One is allowing insurance companies to compete across state lines, which sounds good until you think about it. Credit card companies do this and, as a result, the industry is based in the states with the fewest regulations and the weakest consumer protection laws. In reality, this would be a stealth deregulation of the health insurance industry -- something few voter would think would be a good idea right now.

Another is tort reform. But limiting lawsuits wouldn't actually reduce costs. "According to the actuarial consulting firm Towers Perrin, medical malpractice tort costs were $30.4 billion in 2007, the last year for which data are available. We have a more than a $2 trillion health care system," explains Tom Baker, a professor of law and health sciences at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. "That puts litigation costs and malpractice insurance at 1 to 1.5 percent of total medical costs. That’s a rounding error. Liability isn’t even the tail on the cost dog. It’s the hair on the end of the tail." Wow, one percent. Now you can finally afford that bubblegum you've had your eye on. All tort reform really is is an attack on trial lawyers, most of whom support Democrats. It's got nothing to do with healthcare reform.

The only real question is whether Republicans are going to offer a bad bill or -- still not learning from their mistakes -- a numberless joke that doesn't even qualify as a broad outline. My money's on "bad bill," but you really never know.


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