Wyden Pushes Back Against Baucus Plan

In the week after Sen. Max Baucus released a draft plan based on the notorious "Gang of Six," Sen. Ron Wyden pens an op-ed and appears on NPR

September 21, 2009 -- Although Sen. Ron Wyden sits on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, he's been virtually shut out of discussions in that committee, which so far have centered on the "Gang of Six," three Democrats and three Republicans. Late last week Wyden expressed his discontent with the bill so far.

Committee chair Sen. Max Baucus released a draft plan last week that cuts back subsidies, does not include a public option or an employer mandate and still doesn't have any Republican support. It doesn't have a whole of Democratic support either, including Wyden who said he's far from being convinced he should vote 'yes.'

Wyden penned an opinion piece in the New York times on Friday, September 18, and appeared on NPR the following Saturday. While progressives are unsatisfied with Wyden's own proposed health reform bill, it does have two notable elements that everyone's talking about: It guarantees "choice" for all Americans and not just those in small groups or individuals, and it has Republican backers: six of them.

UPDATE: On September 23, the Senate Finance Committee passed Wyden's choice amendment.

Originally in the New York Times:

“MY guiding principle is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there is choice and competition,” President Obama said last week in an address to Congress on health care reform. It’s a good principle, one that may determine the ultimate success or failure of reform, but unfortunately it’s not really guiding the Senate bill unveiled on Wednesday or any of the other health reform legislation now under consideration in Congress.

Under the nation’s current employer-based system, most people have little if any choice about where they get their insurance. They just have to accept the plan that comes with their job. That insurance company, in turn, is provided a captive group of customers, so it has no incentive to earn their loyalty.

Empowering Americans to choose from a broad selection of health plans would turn the tables. Those insurers that charged affordable rates and provided good coverage would attract more customers, while those that treated customers badly would be forced to change their ways or go out of business. To stay competitive, insurers would need to follow the example of places like the Mayo Clinic and offer good, low-cost coverage.

The various bills making their way through Congress would, as the president explained, provide some consumer choice by establishing large marketplaces where people could easily compare insurance plans and pick the one that best suits their needs. Companies participating in these insurance exchanges would be required to offer coverage to anyone who wants to buy it, regardless of their age, gender or health status, and they would be barred from charging someone more for having a pre-existing condition.

The problem with these bills, however, is that they would not make the exchanges available to all Americans. Only very small companies and those individuals who can’t get insurance outside of the exchange — 25 million people — would be allowed to shop there. This would leave more than 200 million Americans with no more options, private or public, than they have today.

Read the full Op-Ed here

The following was originally at NPR.org:

Sen. Ron Wyden's name has been identified with health care on Capitol Hill for more than two years, but a health care plan the Democrat from Oregon co-sponsored with Republican Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah has been cast aside. Wyden tells Guy Raz he thinks Congress should still pursue a bipartisan solution to the health care overhaul.

GUY RAZ, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.....

RAZ: Members of the Senate have now offered up more than 500 amendments to the plan proposed by Senator Baucus. One Senator, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, hopes to require employers to offer at least two insurance options to their employees. Wyden does not back a government-run public option. He also wants everyone in America to have access to a so-called exchange. It's a system where private insurers would compete for your business.

It's an idea that's included in the Baucus Plan, but only for a limited number of people. Wyden says extending that option to everyone will bring down costs. And Ron Wyden has introduced his own bill in the Senate. It's co-sponsored with Utah Republican Robert Bennett, and that bill relies on market forces to solve the problem of providing coverage to the millions of uninsured Americans. I spoke with Ron Wyden on Friday.

Senator RON WYDEN (Democrat, Oregon): My legislation builds in a key way on what the president has said for many months. The president told the American people, you can keep the coverage you have. I put a comma in and say, if you don't like the coverage you have, you can go into the marketplace and get other alternatives. What I do is really go to what the president has said is his guiding principle that there ought to be choice and competition.

RAZ: So just in practical terms, explain how this would work for a consumer.

Senator WYDEN: You can take the money that you're employer offers you in terms of health care and you can say, all right, I'm going to stay with my employer plan. I like what I've got - in effect, you check a box, you stay with your employer plan. But if you don't like that particular package, you can take that amount of money, go to the marketplace, if you find something else you like that's cheaper, the money goes into your pocket.

RAZ: One of the key things that you have omitted from your plan is a public option, a government-sponsored health care plan. You do not support that.

Senator WYDEN: I'm of the view, whether it's a public option or a private option, if you don't have choice, the consumer is not going to end up getting better quality, more affordable products. It's almost like we're having this debate in this country between a public option or a private option. What people ought to really consider are the consequences of having a no choice option because that's really going to be devastating.

RAZ: So you think that this market-based approach can satisfy the demands of Democrats and Republicans?

Senator WYDEN: This is a proven model. This is a model that works for members of Congress. Remember, you're not sending anybody out into the broken individual market where insurance companies can discriminate against them. You're talking about plans and insurance products where the consumer has bargaining power. That's the kind of model that I think is going to pay off best for the consumer, and if we end up at the end of the day denying choice, I think we're going to regret it greatly.

Read the full transcript and listen to the audio at NPR.org

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