Sunday, September 20, 2009

Backbencher of the Week

This week we recognize a long time advocate of universal health care. Sen Ron Wyden(D-OR) is the co-author with Sen. Bob Bennett(R-UT) of the Healthy Americans Act. This bill is a bi-partisan bill designed to end the employer based health insurance system and replace it with a regulated and subsidized private health care market to achieve universality and affordability.

In brief, what the bill does is create state level insurance exchanges that would allow insurance companies offer a variety of coverage plans. The standard plan would be based on the plans offered through federal exchanges that members of Congress and federal employees are eligible for. Health care would no longer be paid for by the employer but would be subsidized by the federal government. The government would get the money by means of a payroll tax. However, the cost to taxpayers would offset by some other tax deductions. Also, the law would mandate that the money employers would have used on employee health benefits would go to the employee in the form of a wage increase. The insurance would also be portable across state lines. Under the Healthy Americans Act insurance companies would be regulated and many of their more perverse acts would be curtailed. The bill would also end many federal plans such as Medicaid and the children's health care system known as SCHIP. Even though I favor a single payer system, I could be satisfied if the final bill resembled this Healthy Americans Act.

Sen. Wyden sits on the Senate Finance Committee. This week the chair of the Finance Committee, Sen. Max Baucus(D-MT), released the version of the healthcare bill that the committee will consider this week. This version of the bill, known as the chairman's mark, can be found here. Even though Sen. Wyden has done a lot of work on healthcare, he was locked out of the process that produced the Finance Committee's bill. As would be expected from a process that locked out the committee's experts, Sen. Baucus' bill was widely criticized. Sen. Wyden has filed a number of amendments to make the Finance Committee bill better. One of the amendments is basically Wyden's Free Choice Act which would open up the insurance exchanges to everyone and not just small business or individuals who don't get their insurance through their employer.

Read an interview with Sen. Wyden here.

For sheer dogged determination that might soon be rewarded with a healthcare bill that might actually become law we award this week's Backbencher of the Week to Sen. Ron Wyden. Congratulations.

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