Scaled-back health care bill most likely

Freedom New Mexico

The past few weeks, as Slate.com writer Christopher Beam has put it, “have amounted to a long, cold shower for Democratic health care proposals.”

First came the report from Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, which showed that all the current Democratic proposals being considered in various committees not only would not “bend the curve” away from ever-rising health-care costs, but would actually increase costs, including the costs of existing programs.

Saturday the CBO was back, with an analysis showing that a new Medicare advisory board on permitted payments, touted as a money-saving silver bullet by White House Office of Management and Budget chief Peter Orszag, would not save much, if any money.

Republicans and so-called Blue Dog, or conservative, Democrats have said the “public option,” a government-run health insurance scheme to compete with private insurance plans, is a deal-breaker. The Senate Finance Committee, six members of which (three Democrats and three Republicans) have been meeting daily for hours on end, has signaled that a mandate to employers to provide health insurance to employees is off the table.

So what are we likely to get?

It is still possible that no health care bill will pass this year. It is just possible the Obama administration has seriously misjudged the mood of the American people or that the national mood has changed as inconvenient details have become public about just how much a Democratic overhaul of health care would cost.

While current polls do show a majority of Americans favor some kind of health care reform, they also show that upward of 80 percent of Americans are somewhat or very satisfied with the health care and heath insurance they now receive.

While supportive of reform as a general, abstract idea, reflecting awareness that the current system is far from perfect, many of these people are starting to worry that an overhaul that increases direct government involvement by the government could leave them and their families worse off than they are now.

What seems most likely, however, is a scaled-back version of Obamacare that will upset advocates of near-nationalization but garner enough votes to pass. The most likely candidate will be a bill produced by the Gang of Six — Democrats Max Baucus of Montana, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, and Republicans Charles Grassley of Iowa, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Olympia Snowe of Maine — on the Senate Finance Committee.

Since the Senate plans to stay in session a week longer than the House, they have a week longer to produce a bill that could merit a vote by the entire Senate, perhaps sometime in September.

Just now, as Robert Moffitt, who follows health care issues for the conservative Heritage Foundation, said, “everything is in flux.” Leaks and hints suggest a government-run “public option” insurance plan and employer mandates are off the table. In place of the public option, a health care cooperative — a nationwide cooperative run by consumers that would have enough members to rival the clout of an established insurance company — is a possibility.

If piecemeal reform is the order of the day, we have some further suggestions, which we’ll detail in a future editorial.