Today, Speaker Pelosi released the latest version of the Democrat’s health care reform bill. Coming in at almost 2,000 pages, H.R. 3962 is nearly twice the length of and more expensive than H.R. 3200, the bill we considered in the Energy and Commerce Committee this past July. For nearly three full months, the Speaker and her partisans have been crafting this bill behind closed doors. I find the product they produced today as dubious as the one I voted against in July.
A colleague of mine noted that the original legislation that created Medicare and Medicare, which themselves cost nearly $800 billion annually, was less than 300 pages. Just imagine what a 2,000 page bill will create!
We expect a final vote on the bill sometime next week, though we could easily see several false starts as Speaker Pelosi twists arms to get the votes she needs.
The new bill uses the word “shall” 3,425 times. The word “shall” in a bill becomes a government order when that bill becomes law. Among those 3,425 provisions are many that concerned me in H.R. 3200. One of those “shall” provisions deals with vending machines. Under this bill, the federal government will dictate how snacks are arranged in vending machines - imagine that! Talk about the long arm of the federal government!
Since the bill’s sponsors will be claiming that “if you like your coverage you can keep it” more than ever, I want to be clear about how this bill does just the opposite. The bill sets up an “exchange” of health care options that private individuals can buy into. Private individuals who purchase a plan that the “exchange” doesn’t deem acceptable will have to pay a penalty equal to 2.5% of their income. Employers who offer plans that aren’t cleared by the exchange will pay a penalty equal to 8% of their payroll. The estimates we have seen indicate millions of Americans will lose their jobs and millions will lose their private health insurance.
The government, specifically a Health Choices Commissioner, will decide the minimum standards for those “exchange” approved plans. Under this bill, if the Health Choices Commissioner decides that the plan you have now doesn’t meet minimum standards, your provider will have to modify it. Once modified, your employer may decide to stop offering that plan, and you’ll have to go buy your insurance in the exchange.
The Commissioner will also decide what the public option plan will look like. This one person will be in a position then, to control what all health care plans - both public and private - will look like and how much they will cost - thereby ensuring that the government plan is the best plan on the market. If that isn’t government takeover of health care, I don’t know what is.
Another serious concern I have is how this bill will affect Tennessee. Governor Bredesen has already pointed out that the ideas enshrined in this bill would turn into the “mother of all unfunded mandates.” He has expressed serious concern about how these plans would increase a particular state’s Medicaid expenses. His concerns were based off Senate language that proposed expanding Medicaid to 133% of the Federal Poverty Level. He estimated that expansion would cost Tennessee $735 million over five years.
It appears that the Governor’s fears will be compounded by the Pelosi bill. The bill unveiled today expands Medicaid to individuals with incomes under 150% of the Federal Poverty Level - that’s more than 10 million Americans. The federal government will only pick up the tab for that expansion through 2014. Starting in 2015, Tennessee will have to pick up 10% of that cost. If the Speaker gets her way, she’ll bust Tennessee’s budget and Tennesseans will be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.
I continue to work my way through this 2,000 page bill. From what I have seen so far, this is not a bill I can support. That does not mean that I find the status quo an acceptable option either. As you can see on my website, my colleagues and I have offered a series of bills that will address the needed reforms we must make to health care without imposing an unworkable and onerous “public option” bureaucracy in Washington.
I will certainly keep you posted as this debate progresses.