Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee finally passed its health care bill. John Nichols of the Nation reacts:

If every kid in class finishes their homework except for one, guess which kid will get the most attention. That’s right, the slacker.

And, when the slacker finally does turn in the assignment, it is invariably a slapdash job that fails to meet minimum standards.

So it is in the U.S. Senate, where the Finance Committee finally got around to finishing its health care reform assignment.

The bill passed by a vote of 14-9. All the Democrats, plus Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) voted in favor. As we know, it doesn’t include a public option.

Robert Scheer, also of the Nation, sums up the bill as written:

The main thrust of the proposal is to forcibly submit even more customers to the tender mercies of the insurance industry while doing nothing significant to cut costs. Insurers will now pretend that the burdens on them are onerous and will demand concessions to make this an even bigger boondoggle for the medical profiteers than George W. Bush’s prescription drug coverage initiative.

Sheer sees the Finance Committee bill as a sop to the health insurers. If it were to pass in its present form, it would deliver millions of new customers to private insurers by requiring everyone to carry insurance. The free market keeps costs down when companies compete to give the best value for the lowest price. But most health insurers operate as monopolies on their home turf. If insurers had to compete for customers, they’d have an incentive to lower their prices. That’s why progressives want to introduce competition in the form of a public option.

An all-private insurance system gives power to an industry that it is indifferent to the needs of the people it claims to serve.

Before we go any further, our warmest congratulations to Robin Marty, who is expecting her second child. In a piece for RH Reality check, Marty details how the private insurance industry toys with people’s lives in pursuit of profit. For Marty and her husband, joy is mixed with apprehension because their maximum out-of-pocket insurance cost just doubled. By the time the baby arrives, Marty’s husband expects to pay 10% of his pre-tax income just to keep his family insured. And they’d better hope that bundle of joy is of an actuarially-approved size. An insurance company in Colorado refused to cover a 4-month-old baby because he was “too fat,” according to the boy’s father. The company relented after media pressure, but there’s no indication that they plan to drop their general rule that babies whose weight is above the 95th percentile don’t get covered.

Earlier this week, the insurance industry broadsided the Obama administration by releasing a “report” warning that health care reform would cause premiums to skyrocket.

As economist Robert Reich explains in TAPPED, the industry was upset that the Senate Finance Committee was considering more lenient punishments for young healthy people who don’t buy health insurance. (They would still be fined, just not as much.) The industry report claimed that if the government spares the rod, only old sick people will sign up, and premiums will be higher for everyone. Reich argues that the report inadvertently makes the case for the public option:

But the bomb went off under the insurers. The only reason these costs can be passed on to consumers in the form of higher premiums is because there’s not enough competition among private insurers to force them to absorb the costs by becoming more efficient. Get it? Health insurers have just made the best argument yet about why a public insurance option is necessary.

Steve Benen of the Washington Independent notes that former Democrat Joe Lieberman (I-Conn) went on Don Imus’s syndicated shock jock radio show to echo the insurance industry’s talking points. “I’m afraid that in the end, the Baucus bill is actually going to raise the price of insurance for most of the people in the country,” Lieberman said.

With all this hypothesizing and posturing, it’s easy to forget that neither Lieberman–nor anyone else—is going to vote on the Baucus bill as written. The Finance Committee bill is just one of several proposals to have passed their respective committees. In the Senate, the more liberal Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) passed a bill with a public option this summer. All the House health reform bills also include a public option.

As Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent explains, the tone of the debate is expected to shift dramatically: Now that the various bills have cleared their bipartisan committees, power shifts to the Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate who are in charge of shaping the final legislation.

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Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Byerstein writes about health care for the Media Wire project. She is a freelance investigative journalist and photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. Her reporting has appeared in Salon, Slate,...