Today's New York Times reports that the health insurance industry is actively involved in discussions about the future of health coverage in the United States.
Since last fall, many of the leading figures in the nation’s long-running health care debate have been meeting secretly in a Senate hearing room. Now, with the blessing of the Senate’s leading proponent of universal health insurance, Edward M. Kennedy, they appear to be inching toward a consensus that could reshape the debate.
Many of the parties, from big insurance companies to lobbyists for consumers, doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, are embracing the idea that comprehensive health care legislation should include a requirement that every American carry insurance.
It's wonderful news that Senator Kennedy has convened this "workhorse group" that includes major stakeholders. But I can't tell from the story who's involved, and this bothers me. More below.
The NYT article lists a number of the lobbyists involved:
The 20 people who regularly attend the meetings on Capitol Hill include lobbyists for AARP, Aetna, the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the American Cancer Society, the American Medical Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Business Roundtable, Easter Seals, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and the United States Chamber of Commerce.
I'm not sure who the "consumer groups" are, but but it's disheartening that only one of the stakeholders mentioned in the article (the AFL/CIO) can be considered an advocate for single-payer health coverage. Groups like the AARP (another stakeholder at the table), who earn revenue from selling insurance to members, are not neutral arbitors. The AMA plan is likewise industry-friendly. And the insurance lobbyists...well, obviously.
I guess it's progress that a consensus is emerging around the notion of universal coverage:
While not all industry groups are in complete agreement, there is enough of a consensus, according to people who have attended the meetings, that they have begun to tackle the next steps: how to enforce the requirement for everyone to have health insurance; how to make insurance affordable to the uninsured; and whether to require employers to help buy coverage for their employees.
But this consensus feels so, well, 1993. And it ignores what is likely the most affordable way to cover everyone.
I'm willing to debate the point. Single-payer may not be the best solution to the health care crisis in America, but how will we be able to judge if it doesn't get equal time at the table? And by equal time, I mean a robust presence, beyond the usual lonely union advocate. Only then will the group honestly look comparatively at the options in terms of cost, flexibility and coverage.
With the economy in crisis, and companies hemorraging jobs, unemployment rising and real wages declining, is this really a good time to be eliminating what might be the best way to provide universal coverage before the debate even begins? Let's have an open, honest and fact-based debate before it's too late.