Friday, September 18, 2009

Max Baucus: Stupid.. like a Fox?

Paul Krugman has an article today saying that while the Baucus bill is terrible and unworkable in it's current form, it does form a better basis for reform that most of us expected.
So something along the general lines of the Baucus plan might be acceptable. But details matter. And the bad news is that the plan, as it stands, is inadequate or badly conceived in three major ways.

First, it bungles the so-called “employer mandate.” Most reform plans include a provision requiring that large employers either provide their workers with health coverage or pay into a fund that would help workers who don’t get insurance through their job buy coverage on their own. Mr. Baucus, however, gets too clever, trying to tie each employer’s fees to the subsidies its own employees end up getting.

That’s a terrible idea. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, it would make companies reluctant to hire workers from lower-income families — and it would also create a bureaucratic nightmare. This provision has to go and be replaced with a simple pay-or-play rule.

Second, the plan is too stingy when it comes to financial aid. Lower-middle-class families, in particular, would end up paying much more in premiums than they do under the Massachusetts plan, suggesting that for many people insurance would not, in fact, be affordable. Fixing this means spending more than Mr. Baucus proposes.

Third, the plan doesn’t create real competition in the insurance market. The right way to create competition is to offer a public option, a government-run insurance plan individuals can buy into as an alternative to private insurance. The Baucus plan instead proposes a fake alternative, nonprofit insurance cooperatives — and it places so many restrictions on these cooperatives that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, they “seem unlikely to establish a significant market presence in many areas of the country.”

The good news about that is that both Olympia Snowe, Max Baucus, and even Chuck Grasserly are saying the right things about the second part of Krugman's critique: they want more subsidies for the middle class. Unfortuntatley, Snowe seems to favor the atrocious "free rider" provision and neither she nor Baucus (and probably others) are going to go for anything better than a triggered Public Option.

But honestly, the most important thing at this point is to get the subsidies right.

Adorable baby fox picture by flickr user Eric Bégin used under a Creative Commons license

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