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Thursday, October 1, 2009

PRICE CONTROLS REAR THEIR UGLY HEAD

October 1, 2009. The ability of Americans to choose to use their own money to obtain insurance policies less likely to ration in the exchanges to be set up by the health restructuring bill may be in danger. Originally, state-based "exchanges" were designed to allow comparison shopping among all insurance plans that provided the basic benefits. Now, however, a proposal is afoot to authorize states to limit the value of the insurance policies all Americans using the exchanges may purchase, by allowing them to exclude policies government authorities believe "do not offer good value and cost-effectiveness." This would effectively allow the imposition of price controls, limiting consumers’ access to adequate and unrationed health care. People would be limited in their ability to use their own money to save their own lives.

As the Senate Finance Committee consideration of amendments to its health care restructuring bill drew to a close this evening, Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Kent Conrad (D-ND) got a commitment from Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) to attempt to add such a to the bill, as it is melded with the version reported from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in July before the product goes to the Senate floor to a vote.

In a similar vein, Senator Maria Cantwell's (D-WA) amendment narrowly passsed earlier in the day. Agreed to by a vote of 12 -11 (with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) joining Republicans), Sen. Cantwell's amendment allows states to establish insurance plans and negotiate rates for people earning between 133 to 200 percent of the federal poverty level- removing them from the exchange.

Sen. Cantwell claimed that 75 percent of the uninsured fall into that range. However, the concern is that "government negotiation" is not really negotiation, but in practice, has been shown to be price control. When there is only one buyer, they can set a price much lower than in a competitive market. Many of the details of the Cantwell Amendment are unclear, but it is one example of how people's access to unrationed care will be limited under this bill.

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