Healthcare Reform Named After Ted Kennedy Must Not Suck

If they're going to name the final healthcare reform bill after Senator Kennedy, we ought to be making legislative demands with voices as powerful and booming as the late senator's.
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If they're going to name the final healthcare reform bill after Senator Kennedy, we ought to be demanding with voices as powerful and booming as the late senator's...

The bill must not suck.

But if it does, perhaps they should name it after Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley. The Blame Baucus and Grassley for This Sucky Act. Or maybe borrow the name of the House bill, the America's Affordable Health Choices Act, which, by the way, reminds me more of a frozen diet meal than a robust healthcare reform bill (the final House bill is actually pretty robust -- it's just a ridiculous name).

On this day of national mourning, we're reminded that Senator Kennedy's political legacy has been inextricably bound to the cause of universal healthcare. Affordable, portable, reliable healthcare.

It's difficult to know for sure, but I can't imagine, had he not been stricken with cancer, that the senator would be lending his unmistakable baritone to the awfulness, equivocation and bipartisan hackery that's on display within the ranks of the Max Baucus 'Gang of Six'. It goes without saying that left to their own spineless and corrupt devices, these six senators will absolutely deliver a terrible healthcare reform bill, one that would only serve to besmirch the Kennedy legacy.

So what exactly does a sucky healthcare bill look like?

Naturally, without a beefy public health insurance plan, healthcare reform would be an utter disaster -- or worse. To refer to the public option as just a "sliver" of the bill, or to push for eliminating it altogether is almost as bad as having no reform at all. Journalists, writers and bloggers who I otherwise respect have been damning the public option with faint praise lately. Let's not sabotage healthcare reform with partisan ultimatums, they say. We can have a great bill without it, they say.

No, sirs. No we can't.

They're not seeing the big picture here. I get it, though. There are many other meaningful aspects to healthcare reform. Banning exclusions for pre-existing conditions, setting caps on out of pocket expenses, bans on rescission. These are all excellent and historic.

But tossed into the mix with these items is the necessity for individual and employer mandates which, like car insurance, would require everyone to buy health insurance. Simply put, mandates will spread out the risk and help to control costs by making sure everyone can pay for medical treatment. So if your 1040 shows that you can afford it (around $88,000 per year for a family of four), you'd have to purchase insurance by law, though there are proposals on the table for allowing government subsidies to help families earning up to $110,000 annually.

However, as I've been writing about on my daily blog for the last week or so, without the public option, such mandates would be nothing less than an ongoing financial endorsement of corporate crime.

In other words, the public option is an option of good conscience.

Without a public plan, mandates would transform what would otherwise be a landmark reform bill into a massive and perpetual handout to the healthcare industry. You and I would have no choice but to pay a monthly tribute to the worthless bastards at UnitedHealth, CIGNA, Aetna and Blue Cross every month until we died, went broke or reached the age of 65.

Put another way: either we're forced to financially support an industry that has knowingly allowed thousands of Americans to die by denying them healthcare when they need it most , or we operate without a safety net while also paying a hefty annual penalty to the federal government. Nice. I'm not sure which is more punitive. A solid public option, on the other hand, solves this wicked catch-22. It will allow many of us to both purchase affordable, portable and reliable health insurance, while also serving as an expression of our disgust with the Mafioso-style business practices of the private insurers.

The former scenario -- the mandates but no public option scenario -- is practically unthinkable (with or without Senator Kennedy's name). Wrapping my conscience around a being legally forced to buy private health insurance, regardless of new regulations and knowing everything I know about how the private insurance industry has operated all these years, would be almost impossible for me. I honestly don't know what I'd do. In a political sense, the president and the Democratic Party will have succeeded in authoring and passing a bill that would boil down to nothing less than a massive, almost unprecedented subsidy to the private health insurance oligarchy.

And we'd have no way out. In fact, you and I would've spent years of our lives mobilizing and activating for healthcare reform only to wind up with a bill that sanctions us to subsidize the very enemy we've been fighting all this time. Senator Kennedy would've spent his career fighting for what will have devolved into an enormous corporate giveaway disguised as "universal healthcare."

That's what a sucky bill looks like.

Regardless of the name of the bill, I can think of no greater way to honor Senator Kennedy's legacy of activism for this cause than for us to stand up and, in his place, to vigorously fight for a bill that includes an option of good conscience -- a bill that provides a real public insurance option.

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