The morning portion of the White House health care summit is over. From Republicans, who refused to bring a unified health care plan to the summit because they don't believe in a comprehensive health care solution, we heard lots of talk on a few main themes.
Multiple Republican attendees, Senator Lamar Alexander chief among them, alleged that the Democratic health care plan would raise insurance costs for people. This is the same thing the insurance industry claimed in their widely-discredited report after the Senate Finance Committee passed their bill.
Alexander and other Republicans repeating the talking point are wrong. Ezra Klein fact-checks the issue:
Yes, the CBO found health-care reform would reduce premiums. The issue gets confused because it also found that access to subsidies would encourage people to buy more comprehensive insurance, which would mean that the value of their insurance would be higher after reform than before it. But that's not the same as insurance becoming more expensive: The fact that I could buy a nicer car after getting a better job suggests that cars are becoming pricier. The bottom line is that if you're comparing two plans that are exactly the same, costs go down after reform.
You can find a full rundown of the report here.
And guess what. The health care plans Republicans have proposed in the past would raise premiums for those of us who are sick, and lower premiums for others only because the coverage would be worse.
Democratic plans would lower costs and give better coverage, Republican plans would do the opposite. I hope we can put this false talking point to rest.
Next, almost every Republican speaker mentioned tort reform as a solution to the health care crisis. They couldn't be more wrong. Multiple studies and CBO scores have shown that tort reform would make only a small dent in health care costs, if at all.
The Washington Independent has a great rundown of the issue:
Annual jury awards and legal settlements involving doctors amounts to “a drop in the bucket” in a country that spends $2.3 trillion annually on health care, Amitabh Chandra, another Harvard University economist, recently told Bloomberg News. Chandra estimated the cost of jury awards at about $12 per person in the U.S., or about $3.6 billion. Insurer WellPoint Inc. has also said that liability awards are not what’s driving premiums.
And a 2004 report by the Congressional Budget Office said medical malpractice makes up only 2 percent of U.S. health spending. Even “significant reductions” would do little to curb health-care expenses, it concluded.
A study by Bloomberg also found that the proportion of medical malpractice verdicts among the top jury awards in the U.S. declined over the last 20 years. “Of the top 25 awards so far this year, only one was a malpractice case.” Moreover, at least 30 states now cap damages in medical lawsuits.
Another data point, Texas is a state that has passed harsh tort reform laws, and it still has some of the highest health care costs in the country:
The experience of Texas in capping damage awards is a good example. Contrary to Perry’s claims, a recent analysis by Atul Gawande in the New Yorker found that while Texas tort reforms led to a cap on pain-and-suffering awards at two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, which led to a dramatic decline in lawsuits, McAllen, Texas is one of the most expensive health care markets in the country. In 2006, “Medicare spent fifteen thousand dollars per person enrolled in McAllen, he finds, which is almost twice the national average — although the average town resident earns only $12,000 a year. “Medicare spends three thousand dollars more per person here than the average person earns.”
Tort reform isn't going to bring down costs. If Republicans are actually concerned about bringing down costs, they'll have to bring another idea to the table.
Other ideas Republicans brought to the table this morning are already in the health care bill proposed by Democrats.
Finally, a note on reconciliation. Republicans have tried all morning to paint reconciliation as some kind of out-of-the-ordinary, radical procedure. It's not. It's used regularly and it's been used to pass sweeping legislation before like Bush's tax cuts or Bill Clinton's welfare reform. And in fact, the Republicans at the summit have voted for these big programs using reconciliation in the past.
A careful analysis of the reconciliation process shows that it's perfectly suited for finishing health reform right and fixing the Senate bill. In fact, "the way in which virtually all of health reform, with very, very limited exceptions, has happened over the past 30 years has been the reconciliation process."
With these talking points debunked, we'll see what Republicans bring to the table in the afternoon. I'm hoping for real solutions, but I'm not holding my breath.