Thursday, October 8, 2009


Just a casual observer of the healthcare debate can get the impression that the Democrats and the president, if not outright winning, have at least gained control over it and are winning on some key points. The Congressional Budget Office, which the Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee all said should be the last word on the cost of the bill, is reporting that the bill proposed by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) will cost less than $900 billion and will actually reduce the deficit. This takes the wind out of the sails of the GOP talking points that it would break the bank and our grandchildren will end up paying for it. (Not to worry; they’ll come up with some other way of claiming it will by the end of the day.)

A number of Republicans such as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Sen. Bob Dole, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and Tommy Thompson, HHS Secretary under George W. Bush, with the encouragement of the White House, are now getting on board with the reform movement. That’s an interesting mix of moderates to conservatives, and the one thing they have in common is that none of them has an office on Capitol Hill, so they’re not subject to the charm and allure of lobbyists. (The idea of considering Bob Dole as a moderate tells you how far the GOP has moved to the right in the last thirteen years.)

It looks as if the public option — in some form — will be a part of the bill. There are as many iterations of the government-run insurance as there are interest groups pushing their ideas; everything from state-run co-ops to single-payer with free lollipops, all with their limits and advantages. For some people, the public option is the make-or-break issue; others are still making the logic-challenged argument that the government does such an inefficient job of running things that nobody will want the public option, but it will still run the private insurance monopolies out of business. (It’s interesting to note that at the moment I was writing this, the Weather Channel was running a spot from “Americans for Prosperity,” one of the Astroturf insurance industry fronts that warned of “bureaucrats coming between you and your doctor.” They also darkly warn us against Canadian-style healthcare that makes you “wait up to a year for vital surgery.” So many lies in just one spot, including the irony-challenged one about bureaucrats. They already do that; they’re called insurance companies.) My hunch is that the final bill will contain a watered-down version of something resembling a public plan, and overall, once the bill has passed, the insurance companies are going to be tripping over themselves to get on board with it: “Hey, we were with it all along!” But not to worry; the Republicans and the insurance companies will come up with some way to sabotage it.

Keith Olbermann spent an hour last night on his “Special Comment” on healthcare. As Mike Madden at notes, Mr. Olbermann spent most of the time recounting his father’s illness and the state of healthcare as seen from the patient’s point of view. While the story was very personal and compelling (and included some tangential history including how fighting against the public option cost Winston Churchill his job after World War II), it came down to the point that the Democrats and the president were caught off-guard by bad branding (don’t call it the “public option,” call it “Medicare for All”) and that the need for healthcare reform is a battle against Death. That’s a touch of melodrama thrown in, but what would a “Special Comment” be without that?

What it comes down to is that after a summer of wild and crazy town hall meetings, Glenn Beck weeping, Michele Bachmann whirling into paranoia and self-parody, and enough YouTube clips of Barney Frank, Alan Grayson, Joe Wilson, and presidential speeches to keep you going for a lifetime, we’re finally getting somewhere with a bill and reform that could offer a glimmer of hope to those of us who think we should have had universal healthcare forty years ago.