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5 Reasons the Baucus Health Bill Fails the Basics

The Baucus health care proposal is a terrible bill. And the Senate's foremost health care expert is having none of it.

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 "Those differences could amount to, for a family of four at 250 percent of poverty, something like $3,000 a year difference in maximum out-of-pocket costs -- the premium and the maximum out-of-pocket costs the family would pay," he explained.

Initial CBO estimates suggested that the public plan, if properly designed, "could save on the order of $150 billion over 10 years," Rockefeller said. "We should recognize that that kind of money would be very helpful, particularly if we're trying to stay within some overall limit in terms of spending to make sure that we can afford to provide good subsidies for Americans in the lower part of the income distribution."

"It would be a gross crime," he continued," if we passed health care reform with mandated coverage for middle-class Americans who couldn't afford the coverage."

4. Medicaid, the existing public plan for poor people, will be compromised. Medicaid is a public plan in which the federal government and states share the financial burden. The Baucus plan introduces a concept called "Medicaid flexibility," which will offer states the ability to trim their Medicaid rolls and limit coverage, Rockefeller said, and squeeze the rolls of children enrolled in the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which Rockefeller co-authored.

"Now, a governor, obviously, has a low budget -- he's going through the problems that everybody else is -- and if he can, you know, knock kids out of [S-]CHIP or cut down on Medicaid," Rockefeller said, "many of them are perfectly content to do that, because most people aren't all that sympathetic, and these people don't have voices they can collectively raise."

The "Medicaid flexibility" provision, said Rockefeller, "is something that Sen. Baucus did to try and attract Sen. Grassley's vote."

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is one of Baucus' Gang of Six. During the negotiations in August, Grassley took to the hustings in his home state, where, at town-hall meetings, he advanced the lie that the Democrats' health care plan included "death panels" before which seniors would allegedly be made to appear, and he carried a copy of Glenn Beck's book under his arm as he made the rounds on his senior-scaring mission.

So, will this trade-off at the expense of the poor win Grassley's vote?

"This is a strange part of this whole process," Rockefeller said. "You've got three Republicans, and you're trying to put in place things they want, hoping you'll get them. I don't think [Baucus] will …"

At the public unveiling of the Baucus plan on Wednesday, neither Grassley nor the other Republican members of the Gang of Six -- Olympia Snowe of Maine and Mike Enzi of Wyoming -- deigned to show up. Neither did the Gang's other two Democrats, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.

5. Poor children get slammed. As if it's not enough to give governors the "flexibility" to "knock kids out of CHIP," as Rockefeller puts it, the State Children's Health Insurance Program will be decoupled from Medicaid and moved into a health-insurance exchange -- a kind of virtual shopping mall of insurance plans that is a mix of options offered by private, for-profit insurers and private plans administered by nonprofit co-operatives. This adds another level of bureaucracy for their parents to negotiate, burying the program amid an array of other plans that are not accessible to poor people.

Adele M. Stan AlterNet's Washington bureau chief.