Friday, January 22, 2010

Failing health

“In the longer term, reform would have been better for them,” said Les Funtleyder, the health care strategist for Miller Tabak & Company, a New York investment firm. He acknowledged that insurance stocks might benefit in the short run as investors expressed their relief over the diminishing odds of a health care bill. The health care legislation under construction in Congress would force the insurers to conduct business very differently, but the companies had already agreed to some of the most fundamental changes. One was their pledge to offer coverage to everyone, regardless of medical status, if the government could ensure that people, even the young and healthy, would have to sign up.

In return, Mr. Funtleyder noted, Congress was potentially delivering as many as 30 million new customers to the insurance market — many of whom would be able to afford coverage because the government would subsidize the cost of premiums. “That’s real revenue, even for Wall Street,” he said.

So why were Republicans so opposed to the bills in Congress? Because they hadn't written them. Opposition to everything Obama has been their credo and mission.

If the health overhaul is indeed dead ... the critical question becomes “how do you grow these businesses?” The insurers say they understand the need for change in their business, particularly so they can offer more affordable coverage to people who must buy insurance on their own and are in poor health.

 Industry analysts say insurers may end up having to adopt some of the changes that the legislation envisions, either on their own or as state regulators demand changes. To be sure, not everyone agrees that the health care legislation would be worse for the industry than the current situation. Some analysts say it is unclear how many of the tens of millions of people without coverage would have actually become customers under the legislation, given the weak federal financial penalties if they did not enroll and questions over how generous the government subsidies would eventually be. 

 The biggest cost of the failure to pass health care reform will accrue to the Administration. For a year the Democrats had the votes to pass legislation, and after the ugliness of the sausage-making process of creating legislation out in the open, of the legislation hostage-taking perpetrated by Senators Lieberman and Nelson, there is nothing.

Not only did legislation not pass, not only did it fail to pass, but the entire process looked ugly, and during the process the President looked detached, aloof, disinterested.

If the Clinton health legislation debacle is a case study in overinvolvement, the Obama health legislation debacle is a case study in underinvolvement.

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