Healthcare reform. Is Baucus Bill Bitter Pill?

Senator Max Baucus recently dropped his version of health care reform on the American people. Since then, progressives say it hasn’t gone far enough to make health care affordable to enough people, and conservatives say it costs too much money. With my feet planted firmly in the camp of the former, I have to say I’m not happy.

Any health care reform that doesn’t include a public option isn’t real reform as far as I’m concerned.

But that’s just me. Even without the option, which isn’t in Baucus’s bill, the question of whether it will make health insurance affordable to hard working, money strapped Americans remains. As we take a hard look at that, here are a few things to consider.

Max Baucus
Senator Max Baucus

The Baucus Bill would attempt to subsidize coverage for low and moderate income workers who aren’t covered by their employer. It would do this by creating exchanges, where workers could shop for rates that would vary by income. However, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2016 (not that far off), a family of four earning $78,000 a year would be paying $15,300 a year for insurance, including premiums and deductibles.

That works out to $1275 bucks a month, or 20% of a family’s income. That means if that same family was paying 25% of their income for housing, either by mortgage or rent, nearly half their income would go to insurance and housing. Sound affordable to you? And this is what is being proposed as a cost effective alternative to a public option.

Something’s wrong here.

Yet the question is whether this bill is better than no bill at all. No less an expert than Paul Krugman writes in the New York Times that it may be a decent starting point.

Krugman favors single payer just like I do, but his column summarizes the collective dilemma of progressives. How bad is too bad? Krugman points out three big flaws in the Baucus plan, one of which is the bait and switch “exchange” plan in place of a public option.

Paul Krugman argues the Baucus plan can be fixed, if congressional progressives and the White House have the guts to make it happen.

Quite frankly, the Obama Administration has been sending mixed signals about whether they’ll back a plan with no public option. It’s time for the President to get off the dime and spend a little political capital. Health care reform that costs more than a thousand dollars a month for working people isn’t reform at all.

But you tell me. From what you know about the Baucus bill, can it be fixed to make health care affordable to most Americans?
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