Waxman: Dems don’t want government to 'win' over insurers

Democrats do not want a proposed government-run health insurance plan to beat its private competitors, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said Wednesday.

The so-called public option has emerged as the most important component of healthcare reform to liberals, who view it as a necessary check on private insurance companies' ability to restrict coverage and benefits.

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Likewise, the public option is the most hated aspect of Democrats’ reform plans among conservatives, who view it a stalking horse for a complete government takeover of the healthcare system.

But Waxman took the usual Democratic counterargument one step further and asserted that he not only rejects the contention that the public option will drive insurers out of business but that a competitive insurance market needs both public and private components.

“We want competition but we don’t want the public plan to win,” Waxman said during remarks at an event sponsored by National Journal, “because that would drive out the private insurance competitors.

“So we have to figure out how to keep the public plan on a level playing field,” Waxman said.

The legislation pending in the House, and a proposal espoused in the Senate by Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), seeks to address those concerns by establishing a public option that would not receive federal funding and would have to obey the same insurance laws as private companies.

That proposal has not swayed Republicans and many centrist Democrats in both chambers.

Instead, the Senate Finance Committee is eyeing other potential compromises, such as establishing not-for-profit, member-owned healthcare cooperatives to compete with private insurance or legislating a “trigger” for a public option that would kick in only if private insurers do not cover enough people under healthcare reform.

Liberals reject both of those ideas, as Waxman did Wednesday. “Triggers don’t make any sense,” he said. As for the cooperatives, he said, “I don’t understand the idea of a co-op. I don’t want to denigrate it but I haven’t looked at it closely.”

Waxman’s committee, along with the Ways and Means and Education and Labor committees, will mark up their joint healthcare reform bill next week.

The House committees introduced most of their bill last month but plan a major announcement Friday when they will declare how much new spending the measure will require and how they intend to pay for it.

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The Congressional Budget Office is due to provide a full cost estimate for the bill on Thursday, Waxman said. More than $1 trillion in new spending is expected to be needed for the measure, offset with an equivalent amount in budget cuts and tax increases. Tuesday evening, the Ways and Means Committee issued a statement touting $500 billion in savings from Medicare and Medicaid.

In spite of these threatened cuts to healthcare interests, Waxman predicted they would eventually support reform because it will benefit them financially.

“Each group is not going to get everything they want but they’re going to see that after all is said and done, if they get a reduction in Medicare payments, they’re going to still make more money because they’re going to have more people that are going to be covered,” Waxman said.

Later on Wednesday, Vice President Biden announced an agreement with the hospital industry that he said would save the federal government $155 billion over 10 years in Medicare and Medicaid spending.

Waxman also asserted that President Obama and the Democrats have a “mandate” from voters to enact their healthcare reforms.

“We have a mandate to do it. That’s one of the reasons the president was elected and Democrats were elected: to accomplish that goal,” he said.