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Talking Health Care Reform With Matt Taibbi

Welcome Matt Taibbi in the comments, whose latest article on health care is in the new issue of Rolling Stone

I remember being at the Ways & Means committee for markup last month.  Lobbyists were paying in the range of $3500 a seat for homeless people to hold places in line for them.  It was like being on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade — everyone was yelling votes into their cell phones, texting on their blackberries furiously to legislative aids who slipped pieces of paper to members on the committee. At one point I  walked in the wrong door and saw that there was, indeed, a "smoke filled back room" where members sat around and cut the real deals.  

With the health care industry currently worth 17% of GDP, it was like being in boom town during the gold rush.  All I could think was, "it won’t be long until Matt Taibbi gets here."

Health insurance industry stock prices soared this week after Kathleen Sebelius said that the public option could take a nap under the bus.  Is it just a coincidence?  Or is it just the public manifestation of the secret deals that the White House has been cutting since May 11 with AHIP, PhRMA, the device manufacturers, the hospitals, the AMA and other stakeholders, the deals we still know nothing about, while liberal interest groups sit it out in the veal pen under orders from Rahm Emanuel?  

For the past 8 years we’ve been told that true progressive change was not possible because the Republicans held the keys.  Now that we’ve got a Democrat in the White House who ran on a public option, 60 Democrats in the Senate, a Speaker of the House who pledged that no bill would go through without a public option, and 77% of the country in favor of having one, we’re confronted with the ugly reality that the system is too corrupt and too recalcitrant for one man or one party to change. 

As Taibbi says of our failed health care system in this month’s Rolling Stone:

The cost of all of this to society, in illness and death and loss of productivity and a soaring federal deficit and plain old anxiety and anger, is incalculable — and that’s the good news.  The bad news is our failed health care system won’t get fixed, because it exists entirely within the confines of yet another failed system:  the political entity known as the United States of America.

He talks about the unbelievable treachery of Max Baucus, who has received $3,973,485 in campaign contributions from the health care industry since 2003.  And of the way that the Blue Dogs held the health care bill hostage before the August recess — and got a concession that any public plan would not be tied to Medicare rates: 

The concession would bump the price of the public option by $1800 a year for an average family of four.  In one fell swoop, the public plan went from being significantly cheaper than private insurance to costing, well, "about the same as what we have now," as one Senate aide put it."

He ascribes this to Nancy Pelosi’s shortcomings, but I’d actually take issue with that — it was Hoyer, advocating for the Blue Dogs, who provide his power base and fuel his hopes for ascendency to the Speaker’s chair.  Quite frankly, if it weren’t for Pelosi, Waxman and Miller’s commitment to the public plan, it would’ve been gone a long time ago. But whether that is true commitment to a public plan, or just to getting one through a first House vote for the benefit of optics that they plan to sacrifice in conference, I can’t say.

It’s a great rundown of the opaque process by which the Senate and House have operated with regard to health care, something we are only beginning to scratch the surface of.  Is the power dynamic changing in favor of progressives, as Sirota says today?  Nobody yet knows.  I hope he follows it up with a look at that dynamic, and also the machinations that have gone on in the White House — because I strongly suspect that’s been the true driving force behind this all along.

Please welcome Matt Taibbi in the comments.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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