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Dems amp up defense of health care reform

As Democrats gird themselves for House Republicans’ effort next week to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 – the health care reforms signed into law last March by President Barack Obama – some of the caucus’ most liberal members are staking out their own ground.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, today introduced the “Public Option Deficit Reduction Act,” which her office said would “establish a robust public option (with physician payment rates set at Medicare plus 5 percent) in the health insurance exchanges created by the health care reform legislation passed in the last Congress.”

This bill is similar to H.R. 5808, which Woolsey introduced last summer along with Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.; that bill – with 129 cosponsors including all of the Bay Area’s members except Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton – never got a committee hearing. The Congressional Budget Office had estimated it would bring down the cost of coverage by providing lower cost competition to private insurers while saving the federal government $68 billion dollars in the first seven years, and even more afterwards.

Members of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform also cited a public option (see page 42) as a viable means to control health care costs, Woolsey noted.

“This is the perfect moment for the public option,” Woolsey said in her news release. “It builds on the health care reform legislation by lowering costs and it provides a great way to bring down the deficit. If Republicans really care about the deficit, they should sign on to this bill rather than try to dismantle the health care reform law, which would add billions to the budget deficit.”

Pete StarkMeanwhile, Stark issued a typically scathing memo today blasting new House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., for accusing the nonpartisan CBO of misrepresenting the cost of reforms already enacted last year.

“Why is Cantor lashing out and accusing CBO of falsifying their data? For the same reason that he refuses to wait for a CBO score before jamming a vote through. Cantor knows that CBO will show that their NoCare proposal busts the budget by adding over a trillion dollars to the deficit, and increases the number of uninsured by tens of millions,” Stark wrote. “Unfortunately, Cantor seems to be completely divorced from reality – telling reporters that he doesn’t believe that health reform actually cuts the deficit.”

“While many Republicans have argued with basic science in the climate change debate, Eric Cantor has become the first Republican to argue with basic arithmetic. As Cantor’s office finds reality frustratingly outside its grasp, it’s worth pointing out some other common misconceptions that they might need help with: Toilets swirl a different direction in the Southern hemisphere – NOT TRUE: http://bit.ly/toilet000; Elvis is really alive – NOT TRUE: http://bit.ly/elvis000; Shania Twain is Mark Twain’s great-granddaughter – NOT TRUE: http://bit.ly/shania000; French Fries originated in France – NOT TRUE: http://bit.ly/frenchfries000.”

UPDATE @ 5:10 P.M.: Woolsey’s new bill’s 46 original cosponsors include Stark; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez; Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose.

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Bay Area Dems push ‘public option’ health bill

Two Bay Area House members have helped introduce a bill to create a public health insurance option that would compete with private insurers in the Health Insurance Exchanges created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act health care reform signed into law by President Barack Obama earlier this year.

Reps. Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., say the Congressional Budget Office estimates H.R. 5808 would save $68 billion from 2014 to 2020, and that the public option would have, on average, premiums 5 to 7 percent lower than private plans in the Exchanges.

“Today, Consumers Union reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield plans amassed billions in surpluses as they raised rates for millions of Americans,” Stark, who chairs the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, said in a news release issued as the lawmakers held a Capitol Hill news conference today. “This is a good example of why we need a public option – to create an insurance plan that competes based on delivering quality, efficient care, not on delivering profits to shareholders. The result is more competition, better coverage, and lower premiums for millions of Americans.”

Woolsey, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said that as the deficit keeps growing, “so does the need for a program that can save billions of dollars and improve health care while doing it. The robust public option offers lower-cost competition to private insurance companies. This will make insurance more affordable for those who do not have it and keep insurance affordable for those who do.”

Among the bill’s 128 original co-sponsors are Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; George Miller, D-Martinez; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose.

Absent from that list, for those keeping count, is Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, who’s generally thought to be the only Bay Area Democratic incumbent in a tough re-election race this November. However, McNerney serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will be this bill’s first stop, so perhaps we’ll see where he stands on this soon enough.

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Obama and Lee on the public option, Afghanistan

President Barack Obama met yesterday afternoon at the White House with members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, trying to allay their fears about the public option included in the newly revamped House health care reform bill. They’ve wanted a public plan with rates based on Medicare, but the new bill would let providers negotiated directly with the federal government.

Here’s what Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee had to say about the meeting:

“This is a truly historic time in our country. Today, we are closer to comprehensive health care reform than we have ever been in the past 70 years.

“I applaud our leadership for their efforts to unveil the current bill. While I have worked with my colleagues consistently to include a public option in this bill there is still work to do. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to ensure that the final package has the strongest public option and health equity provisions possible.

“A public option is essential to ensuring coverage of as many uninsured Americans as possible, as well as cost containment provisions to limit increased premiums for the 85 percent of Americans who currently have health insurance.

“In our meeting with President Obama I emphasized the importance of having the public option remain in the final bill to come out of conference. Additionally, it is important to keep every existing health equity provision intact. The Office of Minority Health should receive the same prioritization that the Office of Women’s Health is set to receive, especially given the data on racial and ethnic health disparities.

“More than 70 percent of Americans support health care reform with a public option, therefore we have a moral obligation to provide them with the choice and accountability that a public plan would provide.”

Also, check out this Huffington Post interview with Lee about her bill, H.R. 3699, that would bar federal funding to send more troops to Afghanistan.

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Progressives double down on public option

Progressive Congressional Caucus co-chairs Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, and Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, today urging her not to take their 82-member caucus — which also includes Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; George Miller, D-Martinez; and Mike Honda, D-San Jose — for granted as the health care reform debate moves forward.

Woolsey and Grijalva apparently took umbrage at Pelosi’s quote in a Washington Post article yesterday:

But the rebellion from fiscal conservatives on the Energy and Commerce Committee last week served as a political wake-up call for Democratic leaders. With enough votes on the panel and on the floor to sink reform legislation, the Blue Dog Coalition forced Pelosi and Emanuel into concessions that made the government plan similar to private health insurance, sparking a new fight with House liberals.

Sensing that the Blue Dogs had dug in for a prolonged fight, Pelosi and Emanuel gave in to most demands in order to get the legislation moving again. They essentially decided that it was better to pick a fight with their liberal flank, where Pelosi remains popular and where loyalty to Obama is strongest, particularly in the Congressional Black Caucus.

Despite threats from almost 60 progressive House Democrats — who outnumber the Blue Dogs — Pelosi defended the compromise, saying it was similar to one backed by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). Pelosi predicted that the liberal wing would fall in line because the legislation is so important to them.

“Are you asking me, ‘Are the progressives going to take down universal, quality, affordable health care for all Americans?’ I don’t think so,” Pelosi told reporters Friday, breaking into laughter at the question.

It’s no laughing matter, Woolsey and Grijalva wrote in their letter today.

We want to assure you that our continued support is contingent on a robust public plan, similar to what was reported out ofthe Committees on Ways and Means and Education and Labor. Those two committees outline a plan that brings down costs and improves quality, access, and competition. Furthermore, the subsidies included in these bills must be restored, because without these subsidies, health insurance access for many low and middle income families will be effectively cut off. The final bill brought to the House Floor must include these provisions or we will oppose the bill.

1

HHS offers California health reform talking points

The story I wrote earlier this week about Rep. Barbara Lee’s health-care reform discussion forum Monday in Oakland brought a lot of varied responses from readers. For example, here are two e-mails I received within a few minutes of each other yesterday:

Thank you for a great article. The only solution to the Healthcare problem is a single payer plan. It cannot and should not be dismissed. The naysayer Republicans have no alternative plan to get the 47 million plus people healthcare coverage. The question should be how do we get healthcare for all rather than how do we get healthcare for all without hurting the profit of the Insurance Industry.

Now is the time for real change. They should never have been allowed to take single payer plan off the table. Many feel that we will be lucky if we get a public plan but that should not even be a question.

And…

Can you send me some of the kool aide these people must be drinking?

Everyone quotes the number of people without health care at 46million, but the report this comes from states that it is more likely in the area of 38 million, looking at the actual number of people without heath care at any one point in time. If you consider non-Americans, you can take out another 20%. And if you consider the number of people earning over $75k a year and who just don’t want to be bothered, you actally end up with a really small number of people lacking insurance.

Anyway, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this morning released a series of state-by-state reports on the health care status quo in order to highlight the need for health reform.

“In states across the country, health care costs are going up and families are struggling to get the quality care they need and deserve,” Sebelius said in her news release. “We cannot wait to pass reform that protects what works about health care and fixes what’s broken.”

“The American people have been calling for reform, and they should not have to wait any longer. Health reform will assure quality affordable health care for all Americans, lower costs, and give more Americans the choices they deserve. The time for reform is now.”

Read the report on California, after the jump…
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