Fresh from voting to begin debate on health reform, California Senator Dianne Feinstein was on NBC’s Meet The Press this morning. (We tweeted her comments at @healthaccess on Twitter.)
Earlier this year, Senator Feinstein’s comments on health reform were noncommittal and even skeptical. She had a website post that indicated her “concerns” with health reform. But as she’s focused on the problem and the solution, she has become more convinced of the urgency of the need, as she stated the urgency of the problem: “The time has come to really see that people who have no insurance can get insurance.”
She also seems to have more appreciation for the solution proposed. Always a moderate at heart, she described the bill as “incremental,” in a positive way. “The good part about this bill is that it is structured so it is phased in, so over time we can watch it, we can change it.” She cited that some help comes early, like small business tax credits, and coverage for those denied for pre-existing condition,. Other changes, like setting up the exchange and the public option, come online in 2014, and she seemed comforted that it would give us time for adjustments if needed.
As she indicated in a new health reform statement on her website last month, Senator Feinstein was clearly influenced by the T.R. Reid book that compared health systems from around the world. A conclusion of the book is that while several countries have different systems, the U.S. stands out, and not in a good way. As Senator Feinstein said on Meet the Press, “America has serious problems with respect to health care. Virtually every other developed country has a better system than we do. Ours is costly, in places it is ineffective, it’s deeply troubled.”
But then Feinstein went further, showing that her centrism is not incompatible with a strong critique of insurance companies and our current for-profit system: “No developed country on Earth has a huge for-profit medical insurance industry that we have: 480% profit in 8 years. Premiums skyrocketing.” She described that she had five California Daughters of Charity hospitals come to her, and talk about how they face a 17% in premium hike for their 6,000 workers, yet only got back 5% in rate reimbursement. The premium increase wiped out their operating capital for 2009. She argued strongly for a public health insurance option, and for a rate regulation authority.
She also pushed back against the wild falsehoods by the opposition. “I looked at the Republican talking points on the 2.5 trillion figure that is their cost [for health reform]. There’s no substantiation for that… What [the CBO] does say: The deficit savings is $170 billion.”
Senator Feinstein did Californians right with her vote to move health reform forward, and in her comments on health reform this morning.