By Kelly K. Gallaher
Congressman Paul Ryan has been very busy talking about the health care crisis and touting his plan called “The Patients’ Choice Act.” My local newspaper invited him to write a series of articles to examine the “facts” of current legislation. After reading his article on July 27, I realized they offered it with no rebuttal or factual verification. A day later, I received a mailing from Ryan criticizing current health care reform proposals while stressing the benefits of his plan.
Ryan’s plan sounds great, while U.S. House of Representatives Bill H.R. 3200 sounds scary. This time I sat down and read very closely every idea and derision posed in Ryan’s mailing. With a small amount of research I was able to refute every statement of criticism contained in the mailing. All of them. I was also able to dismantle the benefits Congressman Ryan claims his “Patients’ Choice Act” contains and discovered a pattern of distorted language designed to misrepresent and confuse constituents about health care. I will illustrate a few of the worst:
Regarding his proposed tax refund of $5,700 for every family or $2,300 for individuals, Ryan says:
“My plan, The Patients’ Choice Act, ensures universal affordable health care for all Americans.” and “Allows everyone to use this tax credit to select from a group of comprehensive health insurance plans that fit their specific needs-just like Members of Congress and federal employees do now.”Last year family coverage in the private market averaged $13,000 and exceeded $16,000 per year in some states and is predicted to keep rising nationally. A figure far more than double the tax credit would allocate.
Republican Senator Richard Burr admitted that Ryan’s credit is not sufficient to cover American families. Burr says, “that probably won’t meet the equivalent of an FEHBP (Federal Employees Health Benefit Program) plan.” Even Ryan’s friend in Congress says this isn’t equivalent to the coverage they have.
Under Ryan’s plan, families with employer paid insurance would be taxed on the entire amount the employer contributes just as if it were wages.
Replacing the current employer tax exclusion with an individual tax credit would significantly weaken employer-based coverage because individuals receive the credit and employers no longer have an incentive to contribute.
Unlike health reform proposals that the House and Senate committees are developing, Ryan’s plan does not set meaningful minimum standards on what benefits insurers must cover. It doesn’t limit deductibles or out-of-pocket costs leaving private insurers to determine those themselves state by state.
On current proposals being debated in the House and Senate, Ryan says the following:
“Total costs would exceed $1 trillion.” and “Creates an entitlement that will cost another trillion over the next ten years, on top of the trillions the government is already scheduled to spend on health care.”The initial report by the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) in early July calculating estimated costs has been used by Ryan and his colleagues frequently and unfairly. The CBO did not calculate savings that health care reform will produce. On July 20, the CBO recalculated that the H.R. 3200 reform bill would not only be budget neutral, it will produce a surplus of $6 billion over time.
The real threat to government spending is the system we have now. According to the Kaiser Foundation: by 2018 health care costs are expected to top $4.4 trillion if nothing is done.
House and Senate committee reforms would reduce overuse of expensive healthcare technology and cut back on preventable medical error -- two of the greatest cost drivers in the entire system. According to the Center for Health Research: comprehensive reform could save as much as $1.4 trillion over ten years.
Perhaps the worst lie Congressman Ryan is telling:
“A recent study predicts two out of every three Americans will lose their current employer-provided insurance under the government plan.”The “recent study” he refers to is a study conducted by the Lewin group, which is wholly owned by UnitedHealth Group (UHG), one of the nation’s largest insurers. The Lewin Group is part of Ingenix, a subsidiary of UHG that was accused by the New York attorney general and the AMA of helping insurers shift medical expenses to consumers by distributing skewed data. In January, UnitedHealth paid a $400 million settlement covering conduct going back to 1994. According to Center on Budget and Policy Priorities it is Congressman Ryan’s “Patients’ Choice Act” that “would significantly erode employer-based coverage” while it “fails to create a viable alternative for people losing employer coverage.”
Lastly, Congressman Ryan decries government interference in health care. However, he completely avoids discussing that his plan for the uninsurable constitutes a huge government system itself. Nearly 100 million chronically ill Americans (representing up to 75% of health care spending) who cannot afford coverage except at colossal premium costs would be funneled into a state/government run health insurance exchange with prices and language determined by private carriers in each individual state. Ryan’s plan is devoid of the competition a public option offers and entrusts insurance companies to police themselves.
Ultimately, Congressman Ryan’s “Patients’ Choice Act” benefits for-profit, private health insurance companies by retaining and defending their central role in this billion dollar industry. Perhaps then, it is no coincidence that the insurance industry has been Congressman Ryan’s top contributor since 1989. In fact, he has received $1,143,560 in campaign contributions from health care industries over the last decade.
As 14,000 Americans lose their health insurance every single day, Paul Ryan offers nothing new; he is obstructing real reform and offering us more of the same. His “Patients’ Choice Act” is a retread of two bills already introduced in 2008 and both were recycled by John McCain in his unsuccessful run for President. In contrast, H.R. 3200 has included 160 Republican amendments, which proved to be smart, constructive and bipartisan, but you won’t hear that from Paul Ryan.
I believe we will have comprehensive health care reform this year and I hope it will be a good plan. It is clear that my U.S. Representative, Paul Ryan, intends to play no role in helping to shape this historic legislation. He said last week on MSNBC, “let’s have an honest debate.” My reply to him is: you first.
Kelly Gallaher is a founding member and coordinator for Community for Change and is currently working with Organizing for America in the 1st Congressional District in Wisconsin. She is a partner in the “Artists Gallery” cooperative, is married and has a nine-year-old daughter, Tess. She says: “I wrote this commentary because I truly believe we must work together to construct a plan for health care reform that works for everyone. Seeing and hearing my Representative, Paul Ryan, politicize that facts of current proposals for political clout is disappointing and underscores the perils of special interest influence on our elected officials.”