Teabag-Free Zone: Reps DeGette and Coffman calmly discuss health reform

Colorado U.S. Reps. Democrat Diana DeGette and Republican Mike Coffman made their cases for and against the health reform plan presently before Congress in the studio at 9News this weekend, fielding constituent questions calmly and at length free from concern that teabaggers would come to “exercise their right to free expression” by shouting down dialogue and starting fights in hallways.

The two mainly addressed the controversial public option. DeGette sees it as a driver for competition, a way to drive prices down and succeed in covering all Americans.

“We actually think setting up an exchange like this with both public and private options is the best of both worlds in terms of competition and keeping rates low,” said DeGette.

Coffman sees it as a move to drive private insurers out of the health sector. He said private insurers would be unable to compete and that the Democratic plan is a “bait and switch” proposal.

“The [public option] will have an inherent competitive advantage over the private sector. I don’t think the ultimate goal is to have competition with the private sector. I think the ultimate goal is to have a single-payer health care system run by government that will in my view drive this nation further into debt by creating an entitlement.”

Videos of interviews with 9News host Adam Schrager are available online (but contain commercials). DeGette video is here. Coffman video is here.

In discussing his ideas, Coffman admits the need for change. He even admits the need for regulation to prevent the most egregious discriminatory practices of the insurance industry, practices that see insurers dropping sick people from the rolls, for example, and refusing coverage. Implicit in his statements is acknowledgment that the insurance and health-care industry has created vast profits for decades based on a business model that has worked very well for industry executives and shareholders but less well for consumers. Costs continue to soar but consumer rights and genuine “choice” have plummeted.

Pointing to Congressional testimony offered last month by insurance industry executives, health and public policy professors Theodore Marmor and Jonathan Oberlander write in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books that the strongest case for a public plan that would protect consumers from insurance industry abuses has ironically been made by the industry itself:

The Executive from WellPoint, UnitedHealth Group and Assurant refused to end a controversial practice known as “rescission.” Under rescission, insurers retroactively cancel—often on the basis of dubious claims that policyholders haven’t disclosed their complete health histories—the coverage of those who develop expensive medical conditions. That has left many people with costly medical bills for treatments that had been previously authorized by their insurance. As Lisa Girion reported in the Los Angeles Times, the three insurers that were included in the June 16 hearing “canceled the coverage of more than 20,000 people, allowing the companies to avoid paying more than $300 million in medical claims over a five-year period.” In doing so they sought to avoid paying for the treatment of “policyholders with breast cancer, lymphoma and more than 1,000 other conditions.”

There is no stronger indictment of American private insurers or better example of the profit motive’s corrosive influence on medicine than rescission. That insurers, even with political pressure for reform, would not forswear this practice in public hearings is stunning. It also illustrates how difficult a task it will be to transform the business practices of an industry that profits from discriminating against sick people.

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