Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sen. Max Baucus: Answer 10 Questions About Mandatory Purchase of Health Insurance Including Why the Public Was Excluded From Today's Committee Meeting

/PRNewswire / -- The U.S. Senate Finance Committee, in closed-door health care discussions today, must answer ten questions about how its plan to require all Americans to show proof of insurance or face tax penalties will provide affordable health care, said Consumer Watchdog.

Questions listed below. Download Consumer Watchdog's letter to Senator Baucus here:

In a letter to Senator Baucus sent today, Consumer Watchdog wrote:

"Americans should not be locked out of any discussion about health care reform, particularly one that will consider whether everyone should be required to buy health insurance policies without any limits on what insurers can charge. Mandatory purchases of private insurance policies without offering a public alternative to the private market is nothing other than a bailout for HMOs -- whose greed, waste and indifference to our health have created the current mess.

"There's no mention of cost-cutting in the Senate Finance Committee's 'policy options' document being discussed in today's closed meeting -- no regulation of HMO premiums, no limits on how much consumers will have to pay out of their own pocket in co-pays or deductibles."

Earlier this week, the Senate Finance Committee circulated a "policy options" white paper to be discussed in today's meeting, which excludes members of the media and public. The senate finance document makes the president's promised "public option" to the private insurance market optional, and does not include cost controls.

Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has received more campaign contributions from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries than any other current Democratic member of the House or Senate; the third highest contributions of any member of Congress.

Consumer Watchdog posed the following 10 questions to Senator Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee, and members of Congress about the affordability of the mandatory purchase of insurance policies:

1. Senate rules appear to only allow committees to meet in closed session
under very limited circumstances, including discussions concerning
national defense and protection of trade secrets, none of which appear
to apply to today's meeting. What Senate rule justifies today's
closed-door committee meeting?
2. Why have you offered such deference to the top lobbyists of the
insurance industry, which bears a large share of the responsibility for
the current health care crisis, while locking consumers and consumer
advocates out of the debate?
3. The only guaranteed provision in the "policy options" report is that
every American would have to file proof of an insurance policy with
their tax returns on April 15, 2013 or face tax penalties. How does
threatening Americans with tax penalties lead to affordable health
4. If there are no limits on how much an insurance company can charge for
the coverage that Americans will be required to buy, how can you
promise that it will be affordable?
5. Your policy options do not adequately protect Americans against
low-benefit, junk insurance that fails to provide access to necessary
benefits and does not limit out-of-pocket expenses (co-pays and
deductibles) when patients get sick. How does "owning" an insurance
policy under these circumstances equal being able to get health care?
6. There are documented cases of insured people facing hundreds of
thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills. Without a cap on
out-of-pocket expenses, how can you prevent this?
7. Your report says that, with few exceptions, hefty tax penalties will be
levied against Americans that don't either purchase coverage or get it
through their job. Is it true that only Christian Scientists would
avoid tax penalties without having to prove their income?
8. One of the options that the committee is considering is to not require
any employers to chip in for health insurance. Why isn't the committee
considering an option where Americans would not be forced to buy
9. Your plan focuses on "wellness" services. But if patients face a $5000
deductible how will they pay for treatment for severe obesity, diabetes
prevention, or even effective smoking cessation?
10. Your plan does not clearly protect state laws providing access to
necessary health care services like a California woman's right to
visit an OB-GYN, a New Jersey child's access to a Hepatitis B
inoculation, a Tennessee patient's coverage for diabetes treatment,
and other benefits including screenings for cervical and prostate
cancers. Will states be allowed to require additional health benefits
beyond those required under federal rules, or will federal rules
pre-empt more expansive state benefits?

** Read Consumer Watchdog's letter to President Obama and Sens. Kennedy and Baucus warning them not to agree to agree to the health insurers' plan to gut state health care laws.

** Read Consumer Watchdog's letter to U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) urging that he continue to protect patients consistent with the principles he has articulated during his 40 year career.

** Read Consumer Watchdog's analysis of health insurer and drug company contributions to members of Congress.

** Read about a recent national poll that found that 65% of voters support giving every American of any age the option of joining Medicare; 60% are willing to pay more in payroll deductions for this option.

** Read about a national poll that found, by contrast, that only 16% of U.S. voters support, and 53% oppose, the insurance industries' plan of requiring every American to provide proof of private health insurance or face tax penalties or other fines.

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