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Snowe Job

It’s come down to this. Democrats can’t stop two of their own from actively signing on to the Republican agenda so, we once again are willing to pay the price of letting more people die so a single Republican, Olympia Snowe, will play nice. President Obama is now actively courting Snowe by pushing her “trigger” idea for the public option. 4&20 Blackbirds did an excellent job this morning of skewering the trigger idea, but I would like to expand a bit on the numbers.

Last month, the Bugle expounded on the trigger option with several reasons why it is a bad idea and probably won’t work. The basic idea of the Snowe trigger option is that when 95% of a state’s residents can’t get decent health insurance coverage at an affordable rate, a public option plan would be triggered on a state-by-state basis. That’s not 95% of insured people, it’s “95% of state residents.” In Montana, that means that just over 900,000 Montanans could get screwed by their insurance providers before a public option would be triggered. If insurance rates reach the 95% plateau, the first thing that happens is that insurance companies get the opportunity to lower the screwing rate to 94.99% to avoid the option.What do you reckon they will do?patsys

Affordability is determined based on a sliding scale from 3% to 300% of the Federal Poverty Level, reaching 13% of your income at the 300% of FPL. Using 2006 Census data, median household income for Montana is $43,531. Using the affordability criteria, that family could pay $5,660 annually or about $472 per month for health insurance at the 13% threshold. jhwygirl correctly says that most Montanans are paying less than that currently. The Snowe amendment determines your income “after deducting any available tax credit or employer subsidy from the cost of such premium“. You may get a tax credit and you probably receive an employer subsidy, but let’s look at that a bit closer. An “employer subsidy” is the amount if money that is being deducted from your pay so that your employer can pay part of your health insurance. If insurance rates declined, presumably you would get a pay increase. A tax credit is only a percentage of what you paid out.

With a trigger option, insurance companies would know exactly the maximum premium they could charge. If a trigger level is actually reached in Montana, the insurance companies are first given the opportunity to lower rates ever so slightly. To meet the threshold, they could lower rates on one sector, such as young, healthy people and leave the elderly and poor paying higher rates. If they can’t do that, a state-level public option is instituted. It has to compete with Blue Cross, which now controls 75% of the Montana market. The whole idea of a robust public option is that you would have a pool of millions of people who could negotiate rates with health care providers. Montana is a very small market and providers would not be willing to negotiate significantly lower rates for such a small pool. Insurance companies would be able to charge more in one part of Montana and less somewhere else and still meet the trigger threshold while many people continue to pay exorbitant rates.

The trigger idea is bad on so many levels I could go on forever. The only viable answer is a strong, robust public insurance option on a national level to actually force insurance companies to compete. Holding Americans hostage to the vote of one or two Republicans or Democrats is just out and out wrong. Take a vote. We need to see if Ben Nelson or Blanche Lincoln, or other Democrats will actively sign on to the Republican agenda to bring down the most important advancement in American health in decades. If they do, they will pay the consequences, but they should not be allowed to hold the life of every American hostage to corporate lobbyists.


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