Wednesday, June 10, 2009

BREAKING NEWS! Rep. Jane Harman Breaks From Blue Dogs, Issues Statement Supporting Kennedy Health Care Reform Plan

This weekend, the news coming out of Washington was not good - Big Pharma and the Insurance Industry is gaining ground in Congress.

They're pulling out all the stops - pushing Democrats and a handful of so-called "moderate" Republicans who say they're in favor of a public option to support legislation that would include it in name only. One of their proposals is to break up the public option into small pieces under multiple regional third-party administrators that would have little or no bargaining leverage. A second is to give the public option to the states where Big Pharma and Big Insurance can easily buy off legislators and officials, as they've been doing for years. A third is bind the public plan to the same rules private insurers have already wangled, thereby making it impossible for the public plan to put competitive pressure on the insurers.

The problem isn't, and never has been, Republicans. Because we can pass health care reform through the reconciliation process, we only need 51 Senators to pass the bill. With 58 Democrats in the Senate,the threat of Republican filibuster is non-existent.

No the problem is Democrats. Specifically, the Blue Dog Coalition in the House, and Conservative Democrats in the Senate. 

Conservative House Democrats agreed to a set of health care principles late last week that angered advocates of a overhaul of the health care system.

The Blue Dog Coalition issued a statement that said it would only support the public health care option as a fallback measure that would be triggered sometime down the road if private insurers don't meet a particular set of goals.

However, the Blue Dog Coalition is far from united. A number of Blue Dogs publicly broke ranks by opposing any trigger for health care reform, including Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) who issued this statement today,

I am a strong supporter of universal health coverage, which is why I support the health care reform plan being developed by President Obama, Senator Kennedy, and Congressman Waxman. Like them, I believe that the bill must include a public health insurance option which guarantees all Americans access to quality, affordable health care. I will oppose any plan that does not include this option, and am unwavering in my opposition to the so-called "Blue Dog trigger." I am proud to have signed the HCAN (Health Care for America Now!) pledge to seek universal coverage.

The real health care reform--aka, a public option--is the lowest bar for progressives to clear with the current Congress. It has the most lobbying behind it, bringing in not only health care reform groups, but also unions and mutli-issue groups like MoveOn. It only requires 51 votes in the Senate, whereas Republicans will force 60-votes on virtually everything else. It is a very popular, not only in absolute terms (60%+), but also relatively popular compared to other major Democratic agenda items like climate change. And President Obama won't have a 60%+ approval rating forever, either.

The bottom line is this: if we can't get our most popular major agenda item, during the peak in Democratic popularity, when we need only 50 Senate votes, and on the issue where we have given our strongest lobbying and activist efforts, then we aren't going to pass meaningful progressive legislation on anything else.

Once again, it's up to US to make sure that a true public option is in the final bill.

We must demand nothing less than a national public option that can compete directly with private insurance and use it's bargaining power to bring down drug costs. Health care reform must, at a minimum:

  • Enact concurrently with other significant expansions of coverage and must not be conditioned on private industry actions.

  • Consist of one entity, operated by the federal government, which sets policies and bears the risk for paying medical claims to keep administrative costs low and provide a higher standard of care.

  • Be available to all individuals and employers across the nation without limitation

  • Allow patients to have access to their choice of doctors and other providers that meet defined participation standards, similar to the traditional Medicare model, promote the medical home model, and eliminate lifetime caps on benefits.

  • Have the ability to structure the provider rates to promote quality care, primary care, prevention, chronic care management, and good public health.

  • Utilize the existing infrastructure of successful public programs like Medicare in order to maintain transparency and consumer protections for administering processes including payment systems, claims and appeals.

  • Establish or negotiate rates with pharmaceutical companies, durable medical equipment providers, and other providers to achieve the lowest prices for consumers.

  • Receive a level of subsidy and support that is no less than that received by private plans.

  • Ensure premiums must be priced at the lowest levels possible, not tied to the rates of private insurance plans


Pick up the telephone and call the White House at 202-456-1414. You can also fax them at 202-456-2461.

THEY ARE LISTENING! I spoke with rep from Organizing For America, and he confirmed that Obama actually changed his position in favor a strong public option as a direct result of the public (and organized) groundswell for single-payer. Keep it up folks.

When you're done with the White House call the following Senators and Congressmembers:

Senator Max Baucus at (202) 224-2651
Senator Charles Schumer at 202-224-6542
Senator Edward Kennedy at (202) 224-4543
Senator Bill Nelson at (202) 224-5274

House Ways and Means Committee Chair Charlie Rangel
(202) 225-3625

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman
(202) 225-2927

House Education and Labor Committee Chair George Miller
(202) 225-3725

Next, call your OWN Senators and Congressmembers!

Don't know who your Congressmember or Senators are? Go to this link to find out, and to get their contact information.

When you call up your representative, you'll get a staffer on the phone who will be fielding many of these phone calls, so keep it short and to the point! Just say you're calling to urge your representative to "support a true Medicare-like public option that can compete with private insurance and bargain for lower drug costs."


Use all your social networks - facebook, family, friends, coworkers to spread the word. We especially need folks from Maine (Sen. Snow), Nebraska (Sen. Nelson) and Montana (Sen. Baucas)

The concrete is being mixed and about to be poured. And after it's poured and hardens, universal health care will be with us for years to come in whatever form it now takes. Let your representative and senators know you want a public option without conditions or triggers - one that gives the public insurer bargaining leverage over drug companies, and pushes insurers to do what they've promised to do. Don't wait until the concrete hardens and we've lost this battle.

Now is the time.

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