Thursday, August 20, 2009

'Obstructionist' GOP Now Opposes Health-Reform Proposals Insurance Firms OK'ed!

In Conference Call With Reporters, Senate's Number Two Republican Hints at Filibuster to Block New Restrictions on Insurance Companies That the Firms Already Agreed With Obama to Accept: Ending Exclusions, Charging Uniform Premium Rates and Making Health Insurance Mandatory for All Americans

House Republicans introducing health care legislation.

House Republicans, led by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) speak with reporters on the ongoing debate over health-care reform legislation. Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl made it clear on Tuesday that strongly opposes new restrictions on private health insurers that would ban denials of coverage based on pre-existing conditions and bar charging consumers different premium rates based on their individual health status. Kyl's opposition raises the possibility of a filibuster against the measures on the Senate floor, despite the Democrats' presumably filibuster-proof 60-seat majority. (Photo: Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, August 20, 2009)


ABC News

WASHINGTON -- If you were to listen to most coverage of the health-care debate, you would be excused for thinking that the so-called "public option" is the only significant difference between the parties.

It's not.

Republicans and Democrats are at loggerheads on a far broader set of issues.

The distance between the parties' leaders on health care was made clear on Tuesday when the No. 2 Republican in the Senate held a conference call with reporters.

Asked by ABC News about a package of insurance market reforms that have been endorsed not only by President Obama but also by the insurance industry, Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) came out against all three proposals.

In particular, the Senate minority whip signaled that he opposes reform proposals that would require insurance companies nationwide to provide coverage without regard to pre-existing conditions; require them to charge everyone the same rate regardless of health status; and require all Americans to carry health insurance.

Kyl's opposition raises the possibility of a filibuster against the measures on the Senate floor, despite the Democrats' 60-seat majority that could kill off such a move.

"One of the concerns I have about the approach of the Democrats ... is an assumption that there has to be a national mandate on all insurers to do various things," Kyl told ABC News when asked for his position the three issues. "Those are techniques that states can, and some have, used in the past with fairly disastrous consequences," he said.

Although the public option has dominated coverage of the health-care debate, Kyl's comments underscored that the rift between GOP leaders and Democrats runs much deeper.

"The more you look into [the views of congressional Republicans], the more you are going to find significant opposition up and down the board to most ideas on the table when it comes to comprehensive health-care reform," Jim Manley, the senior communications adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) told ABC News. "Republicans are betting that the president will fail."

Kyl said he opposed the so-called "guaranteed issue" measure, which would require insurers to provide coverage without regard to pre-existing conditions; and a "community rating" measure that would require them to charge the same premiums rate regardless of a person's health status.

The Arizona Republican opposes the provisions because of what he said were concerns about cost. "There's no question that it does raise costs," Kyl said. "And the objective here is to reduce costs."


Two years ago, the insurance industry commissioned a study of states that have pursued guaranteed issue and community rating.

The study, which was conducted by Milliman, Inc., an actuarial and consulting firm, found that these policies "have the potential to cause individuals to wait until they have health problems to buy insurance. This could cause premiums to increase for all policyholders, increasing the likelihood that lower-risk individuals leave the market, which could lead to further rate increases. If this continues, the pool or market could essentially collapse or shrink to include only the high risk population."

The insurance industry has since concluded, however, that these problems can be overcome by requiring all Americans to purchase insurance. "If we can get everyone in the health-care system, we can do guaranteed issue, which means no denials on the basis of pre-existing condition, and no rating by health status or gender," said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the insurance industry's trade group.


Obama originally opposed requiring all adults to purchase health insurance. In fact, his opposition to an individual mandate was a flashpoint in his fight for the Democratic nomination against then-Senator Hillary Clinton, now Obama's secretary of state.

Since becoming president, however, Obama has changed his stance and he now supports an individual mandate, viewing it as essential to winning the insurance industry's support for guaranteed issue and community rating.

"So it's important when people ask me, why don't you do the insurance reform stuff and not expand coverage for more people, my answer is I can't do the insurance reform stuff by itself," the president said last Friday during a town-hall meeting in Montana.

"The only way that we can change some of the insurance practices that are hurting people now is to make sure that everybody's covered and everybody's got a stake in it," Obama continued. "Then the insurance companies are able and willing to make some of the changes."


A liberal blog publisher who's spearheading efforts to raise money for progressives who see the public option as an "essential element" of health-care reform, reacted to Kyl's comments on Tuesday by saying that it reconfirms her view that Democrats should be reluctant to make concessions to Republicans, since most of them are likely to oppose whatever bill emerges from Congress.

"Democrats don't need Republicans to pass health care," Jane Hamsher, the founder and publisher of the liberal blog site, told ABC News. "The issue is going to be: 'How am I going to get health care?' Republicans are not relevant to this debate -- except if the Democrats decide to make them relevant."


Amidst questions of whether or not any Senate Republicans will support a health care reform bill, Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said Wednesday that the “White House and the Senate Democratic leadership still prefer a bipartisan bill.”

The Reid spokesman said that “neither the White House nor the leadership have made a decision to pursue reconciliation,” the somewhat controversial legislative process by which a bill is introduced in such a manner so that it requires merely 50 votes instead of 60 to proceed to a vote, thus removing the threat of filibuster.

Manley said that “we will not make a decision to pursue reconciliation until we have exhausted efforts to produce a bipartisan bill.

“However,” he cautioned, “patience is not unlimited and we are determined to get something done this year by any legislative means necessary.”

“By any means necessary” is a phrase popularized by the late civil rights activist Malcolm X, demanding the rights of African-Americans to be respected in society, though it is thought to have originally been penned by French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre in his play about assassination, “Dirty Hands,” in a line demanding the end of class.


Another interesting question: Even if Reid does invoke the reconciliation rule, will Senate Democrats even have 50 votes to pass the bill?

You cannot start out assuming Democrats have their full 60-vote majority, since Senators Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) and Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) -- the latter a lifelong advocate for national health insurance -- are so infirm.

So start with 58.

Then take out those who have expressed reservations if not opposition to a the inclusion of a public plan: Senators Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota), Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska), Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas), Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas) and possibly Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana).

Then there's the open opposition to a "public option" voiced firmly by Senators Max Baucus (D-Montana) and independent Joe Leiberman of Connecticut.

Now you’re down to 51. And the pressure from outside interest groups and the insurance industry hasn’t even really begun yet.

On the other hand, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) organized a letter of 28 senators -- including independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont -- demanding a public option.

So do Senate Democratic leaders have the votes for a bill with a public option?

Do they have the votes for a bill without one?

(ABC News' Elizabeth Gorman contributed to this report.)

(Disclosure Notice:, which was mentioned in this article, carries the syndicated version of The 'Skeeter Bites Report .)

# # #

Volume IV, Number 62
Special Report Copyright 2009, ABC News.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


Sphere: Related Content