Health Insurance Stocks Soar On Baucus Deal

One of the things that gets obscured by the huge sums of money being spent by lobbyists to degrade, deride, and defuse legislation is that in reality, the big industries get what they want very cheaply.

Lawmakers already make use of so many systemic advantages when it comes time to defend their seats that a little bit of industry largess goes a long way. So they can afford to be generous, and they never ask for an additional cut. This is something that Ian Welsh at Open Left observes today:

…the [return on investment] on lobbying is astronomical. For example, the American Jobs Creation act earned corporations 82 billion. The cost in lobbying? 283 million. Return on investment? 22,000%

Over at Campaign Silo, Teddy Partridge looks at the kinds of returns involved in the health care reform arena:

News that Senator Max Baucus’ Finance Committee deal on health care financing excluded a public option sent health insurance stocks soaring Tuesday.

Shares of U.S. health insurers rose broadly on Tuesday on hopes a health reform bill would not include a government-run option, which has drawn strong opposition from insurers who fear it would destroy the private marketplace.

The S&P Managed Health Care index of large U.S. health insurers closed 6.5 percent higher.

Aetna rose 12.6 percent, Coventry was up 12.7 percent and Cigna was 7.7 percent higher, all on the New York Stock Exchange. Centene rose 7.9 percent.

This is funny, because I am reliably informed that Max Baucus has concerns that government intervention in private markets could be a disaster for the country!

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Health care progress seen on Capitol Hill

RALEIGH, N.C. — Congress reported progress on legislation to overhaul the nation’s health care Wednesday as President Barack Obama introduced a retooled message asserting his plan would protect Americans and limit insurers’ power.

“We have a system today that works well for the insurance industry, but it doesn’t always work well for you,” Obama told more than 2,000 people in a North Carolina high school gymnasium. “What we need, and what we will have when we pass these reforms, are health insurance consumer protections to make sure that those who have insurance are treated fairly and insurance companies are held accountable.”

Obama also acknowledged a setback in the drive to enact his top domestic priority, saying he doesn’t expect Congress to vote on legislation until the fall because bills aren’t even out of committees. The White House had pressed for passage before the House and Senate left for their August break.

“We did give them a deadline, and sort of we missed that deadline. But that’s OK,” Obama said.

“We don’t want to just do it quickly, we want to do it right,” he added. But he also signaled that he won’t be patient if negotiations continue to drag, saying: “The American people can’t wait any longer. They want action this year. I want action this year.”

Back in Washington, there were signs of significant movement after a period of stalemate.

House lawmakers indicated they were moving ahead on their version of the health care legislation after leaders and fiscally conservative Democrats worked out a deal.

Four of the seven so-called Blue Dog Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said they resolved their differences with Chairman Henry Waxman of California and have agreed that the full House would not vote on the legislation until September so lawmakers can read the bill and listen to constituents. The lawmakers also had been meeting with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., head of the Blue Dogs health care task force, appeared pleased with the agreement, saying: “It cuts the cost of the bill significantly by over $100 billion. It protects small businesses and it saves our rural hospitals and ensures that if there is a public option, it will be just that. It will be an option providing consumers more choices. It will not be mandated on anyone. And it now will clearly be on a level playing field.”

Senators trying to reach a bipartisan compromise also reported progress in paring the costs of the plan as they push for an agreement they hope will appeal to the political middle.

Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the Democrat leading the negotiations among three Democrats and three Republicans, said new estimates from the Congressional Budget Office show the plan that’s taking shape would cover 95 percent of Americans by 2015, and cost about $900 billion over 10 years – under the unofficial $1 trillion target the White House has set.

As Congress continued to haggle over various bills on Capitol Hill, the president flew to North Carolina to emphasize consumer protections that he said would be in any bill he would sign. He was making the same pitch later in Virginia.

Among those protections: Insurers would be required to set annual caps on how much they can charge for out-of-pocket expenses, would have to fully cover routine tests to help prevent illness and would be required to renew any policy as long as the policyholder paid the premium in full. Insurers also would be barred from refusing coverage because of pre-existing conditions, scaling back insurance for people who fall very ill, charging more for services based on gender or and placing limits on coverage. And, they wouldn’t be able to deny children family coverage through age 26.

“Whether or not you have health insurance right now, the reforms we seek will bring stability and security that you don’t have today – reforms that become more urgent and more urgent with each passing year,” Obama said.

Many, if not all, of the consumer protections are included in legislation under discussion in both houses. But conservative-to-moderate Democrats are balking at the bills, making the legislative process move slower than the White House would like and presenting political challenges to the Democratic president.

The president is seeking legislation to extend health insurance to millions who lack it, even as he is asking lawmakers to slow the growth in the skyrocketing cost of medical care overall. To coax legislation from Congress, the president is making a major investment in his time and political capital. His trips outside of Washington and retooled message are part of that effort.

Greeted with cheers, he bounded onto a North Carolina stage backed by four huge American flags, a scene reminiscent of last year’s presidential campaign. The audience was friendly, its questions hardly critical. The White House said people signed up for a drawing to get tickets through a Web site and phone number.

The welcome was in contrast to criticism Obama met as his motorcade made its way from the airport to Needham B. Broughton High School. Thick groups of protesters held signs that said “Obamacare is Socialism,” “Politicians + Health Care Disaster,” and “Hands Off Our Health Care.”

Once inside, Obama got hearty applause as he introduced each element in his introductory remarks.

As he has nearly every day for weeks, Obama countered concerns about costs to taxpayers and the scope of government in any overhaul, saying, “No one is talking about some government takeover of health care. … These folks need to stop scaring everybody.”

He cast the debate as a choice between doing something to bring down rising costs, provide better insurance and control exploding deficits – and doing nothing, which he said would have disastrous consequences by doubling health costs over the next decade, making millions more Americans uninsured and bankrupting federal and state governments.

Obama dismissed critics’ claims that he was playing politics with health care, telling the crowd: “You know this isn’t about politics. This is about people’s lives. This is about people’s businesses. This is about our future.”

____

Associated Press Writers David Espo and Erica Werner contributed to this report.


Gun Vote Backlash: CO Senators Under Attack For Votes On Controversial Measure

WASHINGTON — It’s no D.C. secret that lawmakers voting against the the nation’s powerful gun lobby will likely suffer the National Rifle Association’s wrath come election time. But, as evidenced in Colorado today, there can also be political consequences of voting with the NRA.


Stormy Daniels Arrested for Domestic Violence: News Station

Stormy Daniels has hit a serious bump in her burgeoning political career, if a report from XBIZ news station is to be believed:

Adult performer and director Stormy Daniels was arrested Saturday for a domestic-violence misdemeanor.

According to Daniels’ charging document obtained by XBIZ, Daniels was booked at 7:13 p.m. Saturday night and released at 1:26 p.m. the following day after posting a $1,000 bond.

Daniels has expressed interest in running against Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) in 2010.

The arrest report more bad news for the porn star and potential politician. On Tuesday, a car bomb blew up her political adviser’s car in New Orleans. The adviser, Brian Welch, was not injured in the explosion.

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David Roberts: Henry Waxman’s Decade-Long Fight to Improve the Clean Air Act

2009-07-29-41UWIh58H6L1.jpgRep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) is the chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee and coauthor of the ACES bill passed by the House in June. Naturally, political observers are curious about his thoughts on the fight to pass climate/energy legislation this year, but in media interviews he tends to be careful, measured, and fairly abstract. He doesn’t do his work in public.

It turns out, however, that Waxman has offered a fairly clear guide to his thinking, and even told us where to find it: it’s in chapter five of his new book, The Waxman Report: How Congress Really Works. (The book is coauthored with writer Josh Green, who   wrote a stellar piece on clean energy last month for The Atlantic.)

A brief aside about the book: it’s fantastic, less the primer   promised by the title than a series of first-person yarns containing startling measures of suspense, drama, and pathos. It sounds strange to say about a book mostly composed of congressional investigations and hearings, but it’s a real page-turner. And there are victories. No matter your skepticism about government, you will be inspired.

The point of this post isn’t to review the book, though. For that see the The Washington Post and the L.A. Times. This is about chapter five, the battle(s) over the Clean Air Act.

Defense

The CAA was originally passed in 1970 and strengthened in 1977, but when Reagan rolled into D.C. in 1980, killing it was one of his top priorities. He had enormous popularity among the public, universal backing from industry, broad support in Congress, and a willing co-conspirator in Energy and Commerce chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.), who then as now represented the auto industry. It was grim.

Waxman, who chaired the environment subcommittee, launched what was effectively a guerilla campaign. To begin with, he used every procedural trick and delay in the book, trying to slow the juggernaut. When the bill went before the full committee, Waxman offered amendment after amendment seeking fissures in the opposing coalition. As Waxman says, “our strategy was to muster all our strength to deny one industry its favors, and in doing so, set off a chain reaction—if one industry pulled out, others might waver, too, eventually turning the coalition members against one another.” And that’s what happened. The crucial turning point was a toxic air amendment that effectively soured the deal for the chemical industry. It passed by one, shaky, uncertain vote. With that, Reagan’s overwhelmingly favored effort to gut the CAA died.

(Suffice to say, this chapter is illuminating on the subject of why Dingell and Waxman can’t stand each other, and why Waxman felt the need to effectively pull a coup on the committee last year.)

Offense

For the rest of the decade, Waxman methodically built a coalition to strengthen the CAA and address, among other problems, acid rain. Many behind-closed-doors meetings with Midwest Democrats ensued, along with field hearings highlighting the economic benefits of the policy. His effort was defeated in 1983, and again in 1984. Later in 1984 came the devastating explosion at the Bhopal pesticide plant in India, which captured public attention; Waxman jumped on the opportunity to hold a field hearing at a similar plant making similar chemicals (and with similarly few safeguards) in the U.S.

In 1985, yet another ambitious attempt ended up stripped almost bare, leaving only the Toxic Release Inventory, which merely required polluters to disclose their emissions. As it happens, TRI galvanized the debate in a way no one expected. When members of the public found out exactly how much pollution they were breathing, and where it came from, and how their cities compared to other cities, their appetite for pollution control increased markedly.

What Waxman calls the “turning point” was a somewhat obscure amendment fight in 1987, over compliance deadlines. The day before the vote, Dingell and Rep. John Murtha (D-Penn.) publicly predicted an easy defeat of the Waxman/Conte amendment. The following day it passed with a 95 vote margin, an unexpected, resounding win for the growing coalition behind clean air.

By 1989, with Bush I (the self-styled “environmental president”)  in office and Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine) replacing Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) as Senate majority leader, new regulations seemed inevitable; industry was divided and infighting, scrabbling for deals. Waxman and his allies went straight after Dingell, pushing tougher tailpipe standards, figuring if they got that Dingell would roll on other industries. The two key votes turned out to be Republican Tom Tauke (Iowa), who got some protection for tractors, and conservative Dem Ralph Hall (Texas), who got sheer, cussed persuasion.

Victory

Dingell cracked and made a deal. The unexpected alliance of Waxman and Dingell led to more deals, momentum, some marathon negotiations over acid rain, and ultimately a bill through the House.

What happened next is interesting indeed:

The Bush administration made a key strategic miscalculation that wound up strengthening the law considerably in the final stages of negotiation. Bush officials played an active role in negotiating the Senate bill, but not its House counterpart. Assuming that a weaker bill would emerge from the House, White House negotiators had insisted that the Senate agreement bind the subsequent House-Senate conference, as Dingell and I had agreed to do. By freeing senators to vote as they wished, the administration expected that they would combine the weakest elements of both bills in to the final legislation. Instead, with an election looming, they supported the strongest provisions in both bills, producing a law that was much better than either the House or Senate drafts had been.

Thus: the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990. Here’s what happened next:

Five years after its passage, more than half the U.S. cities that exceeded urban smog standards had come into compliance. Production of ozone-depleting chemicals had dropped by more than 90 percent. Power plant emissions that cause acid rain fell to half their 1980 levels, and at a fraction of the cost industry had predicted. … When fully implemented, the law will prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths, tens of thousands of hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, and millions of lost workdays each year.

That strikes me as well worth a decade of fighting.

What can we learn from this tale that’s germane to the fight over climate legislation? I’ll address that in my next post, but please, share your own interpretations in comments.


Kate Clinton: The Single Prayer Plan: Please God, Don’t Let Me Get Sick

Let’s all pull up our camp chairs around the fire and tell our scariest health care stories: the friend who couldn’t afford her thyroid medication and permanently damaged her eyes; the friend who needed a hip replacement and got caught in the dreaded catch-22 world of pre-existing conditions; the vigilant friend who called out her over-billing pharmacy when she mysteriously hit her insurance limit. I bet you’ve got scarier stories. I hope it’s not your own.

Or we could just take some burning logs from the fire, march down to DC, storm Congress and demand action. They are currently stalled, off Obama’s timetable for reform, trying to figure out how to pay for health care. The entitled, pork-barreling, bridge-to-nowhere Congress has suddenly become a born-again, bean-counting, bottom-lining model of fiscal responsibility.

Being in Massachusetts home of both marriage equality and health care, I swear I don’t feel that thrumming bass note of health care worry here in the Commonhealth. We have all read the deleterious effects of stress. The cost of not worrying about what will become of you when you get sick is never factored into health care costs and it’s priceless.

I am not a doctor; I don’t even play one on TV, but I’ve got an idea to finance health care. My plan is full of empathy, if you will pardon the expression. It does not involve taxing the poor victimized rich. They have suffered enough. It does not involve making people bid fond, tearful farewells to their family doctor of eighty years. Who are those people? It does not involve doing your own plastic surgery. A woman did and you can see the terrible results on Youtube.

Forty years ago one very popular head-shop t-shirt read, “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” It was supposedly drawn by some adorable child of a hippie. It was a bit cloying. But I thought of that shirt the other day as I listened to more squawking balking about the near one trillion dollar cost of health care reform. This from those who never thought twice or accurately about the three trillion dollar cost of the Iraq War.

We are now in two wars. My health care RX? First, quit giving the warlords free Viagra. Get the water running in Afghanistan and Iraq. Dump Paxil and estrogen into the water system and leave. The money we save will finance an amazing US health care system. It will be the envy of Canada.


Kay Bailey Hutchison Will Resign For Gubernatorial Race

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said in a radio interview that she expects to step down from the Senate around October or November to battle fellow Republican Rick Perry for governor.

In an interview Wednesday on WBAP-AM of Fort Worth and Dallas, Hutchison said she wants to stay in the Senate long enough to fight President Barack Obama’s healthcare plan. She said her departure will be some time in “October, November, in that time frame.”

She again said that she’ll officially launch her gubernatorial campaign in August.

The Republican senior senator from Texas said that, in effect, she gave Perry a free pass four years ago when she decided not to run against him. She said he’s now trying to stay in the job too long.

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