Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Health care reform? What happened to this plan?

healthcare

The news was – as usual – full of the latest information about the health care debate that’s been raging for, oh, at least a few months now.

It seems the Obama administration is backing off the so-called public option – that would put the government in competition with private health insurance agencies – and is looking into setting up a private system of health care cooperatives that work like electric co-ops.

Or, maybe not.

What I’ve been wondering for awhile now is what happened to the Small Business Health Options Plan (SHOP) that was all the rage a year ago. Actually, I first heard about that plan in about 2001 when John Boozman – a Republican congressman from Arkansas’ 3rd District – talked about an early version of it during a meeting at the famed Catfish Hole in Fayetteville, Ark.

Under the terms of that plan, small businesses would be able to band together in statewide or national pools and obtain group health insurance rates that larger corporations currently enjoy. The idea, of course, was that such pooling would bring down health insurance costs and make plans affordable to even businesses with one employee.

A plan that would accomplish just that went before Congress in 2006 and was defeated in the Senate. At the time, senators from Arkansas said that the problem with the bill was that the Republicans blocked any attempts to add amendments to the Senate bill, thus prohibiting members from addressing the very real concerns they had about the legislation. Fair enough.

Last year, U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) was in Arkansas drumming up support for the legislation, which appeared in the Senate as S.2759 with a companion bill in the House as H.R.5918. After hearing of bipartisan support and support from such heavy hitters as the National Association of Realtors and the National Federation of Independent Business, both bills got stuck in committee and apparently perished there.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that all the noise over SHOP died almost completely as soon as it was obvious that Obama whipped Hillary Clinton in the primaries and became the Democrats’ presidential nominee. Still, one has to wonder what happened to all that support for SHOP and why aren’t we hearing a peep about it these days?

We’re talking about a piece of legislation that had been worked on for at least seven years and was full of tax incentives for small businesses that offered health care insurance to employees. It was a mature bill and one that appeared to have a solid chance of becoming law. We’re talking about a piece of legislation in which both Democrats and Republicans had the chance to put in provisions they liked and raise hell about parts of the plan they didn’t like. Support was lined up from the private sector and attempts were made to address the concerns of the insurance industry.

All that work, seemingly, has been tossed aside in favor of a plan that just looks rushed and has certainly caused plenty of divided public opinion and hurt feelings.

Here’s the point to all this rambling – the ideas behind SHOP started to form back in the 1990s when Hillary Clinton’s attempt to reform health care failed completely. How did we get to the point when we threw over a mature, comprehensive bill in favor of “the next big thing?”

Furthermore, where the hell are those members of Congress who rallied behind SHOP and why aren’t they saying a thing about the legislation now? If the Obama plan fails, what do our representatives say to the people that SHOP could have helped?

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