Senator Max Baucus is fuming. Here we are, coming down to the wire on health care reform, and the insurance industry decides to lob a stink bomb into the proceedings, claiming that rates will skyrocket if this bill passes. The dire warning is not just a prediction, of course; it’s a threat.
What are they complaining about? Haven’t insurance companies received just about everything they wanted in this bill and more? “Don’t worry,” lawmakers promised them, “by our mandating coverage, you’ll get tens of millions of new customers.” (Note: and they’re calling this “reform”?) But that’s not enough for the industry. They want everybody, and the bill’s penalties for remaining uncovered just aren’t harsh enough to compel every cow into the feedlot. Instead, insurance execs foresee being swamped with millions of uninsured, old, decrepit sick cows, not the young, healthy, leaping calves they were hoping for. And so they’ve pitched a hissy fit.
Now Baucus is scratching his head, wondering what went wrong. Like a bewildered parent of a spoiled child, he exclaims, “But I gave them everything they ever wanted!” That’s right, Senator; you did. You scuttled the public option, even though the majority of Americans desire it, and even common sense told you it’s the only way to keep costs down and create a truly competitive market. But Greed is never satisfied with just most of the pie. Didn’t you know that? That’s why it’s called Greed. When you dance with the devil, guess who always leads?
But these threats may be just what proponents of a public option have been waiting for. In holding the Senate and the American people hostage, the industry may have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Their mask has slipped, showing even their most loyal myrmidons in the Senate that they can’t be trusted. Like the hijacker with a box-cutter who threatens to slit his own throat if he’s not allowed to fly the plane, the insurance industry may have made a fatal error in judgment. The ancient Greeks called it hubris, pride that leads to a downfall. “Whom the gods would destroy, they first drive mad.”
Countries like Germany, France, and Switzerland had the right idea. They made for-profit insurance companies illegal, at least on the primary care level. Who ever heard of making a profit off of other people’s misery anyway?
Thank you, insurance industry. We’ve been trying to make this point for years.