Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Gang of Six's Love Affair With Concentrated Health Insurer Markets

Frank Pasquale

If there's one thing our elite press corps loves, it's centrism. They cling to a romantic ideal of bipartisanship--even when they're discussing necessarily ideological endeavors like health care reform. Thus it comes as no surprise when the NYT's Herzensohn & Pear can think of no more critical angle on the gang of six "centrist" Senators now at the center of the health reform debate than the fattening snacks that fuel their deliberations.

It turns out that a majority of the gang of six--Senators Baucus, Snowe, Conrad, and Grassley--hail from states with extraordinarily concentrated health insurance markets. As Catherine Arnst of Businessweek reports, "such market concentration has become a potent argument for supporters of a public insurer," which would especially benefit consumers in those states. So guess what the Gang of Six has immediately taken off the table in reform talks?:

Already, the group of six has tossed aside the idea of a government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers, which the president supports but Republicans said was a deal-breaker. Instead, they are proposing a network of private, nonprofit cooperatives.

They've also dismissed an "income surtax on high earners"--because, hey, once you've already voted to give away $250 billion to the very wealthy in estate tax cuts, how could you possibly ask mere millionaires to chip in for health care?

It's this kind of thinking that our press praises as "bipartisan"--just as it treats the transparently value-laden estimates of CBO Budget Director Doug Elmendorf as objective truth. Allergic to policy details, they entrench a regressive incrementalism likely to accelerate the decline of an already-broken health care marketplace.

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