When politicians get nervous that they have done nothing to advance a cause dear to many of their constituents, the savvy politico will file a bill with a catchy name to misrepresent his or her voting record. That way, the politician can at least claim that he or she did something. The proposed alternative bill is always a dead letter – a political smokescreen with no co-sponsors, no support, and no hope of passing. Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole tried this technique after voting against the expansion of children's health insurance. Senator Richard Burr tried it with universal health care.
Now that Burr has officially launched his reelection campaign you can be sure that every time his terrible record on health care is mentioned he will note his authorship of the "Every American Insured Health Act."
"Of course he wants all children to have health insurance," he will say. His vote against children's health insurance had absolutely nothing to do with insurance industry opposition to the bill. It's just that he wants to do something "comprehensive."
The only problem is that his bill is not even close to comprehensive. (It also has no chance of passing, unlike the children's health insurance program.) In fact, of all of the bills filed in Congress that purport to provide universal coverage, Burr's bill is the least comprehensive. On his website Burr touts the fact that the nonpartisan Lewin Group estimates that his legislation would cover 22.3 million more uninsured by 2010. What he fails to highlight is that this would still leave some 26.6 million people uninsured at an additional cost to the federal government of $161.3 billion.
The Burr plan fares particularly poorly in comparison to the ideas of President Obama and Montana Senator Max Baucus. The Lewin Group estimates that the Obama and Baucus style reforms would cover an additional 44.9 million, leaving only about four million uninsured at a cost to the federal government of $103.9 billion.
Burr's plan is the old idea of providing tax credits to buy insurance. He would give incentives to states to establish high-risk health pools and allow the sale of stripped down insurance products that only cover a few medical services. He would not ban insurance companies from charging more for pre-existing conditions. He would not ban age-grading of insurance products. He would not require anything like community rating.
More importantly, Burr does not propose any real solution to controlling the growth in health care costs. This is critical because we will never insure everyone unless we do something about the steep year-to-year increases in health costs. In fact, Burr's proposal would quickly cover a small group of the uninsured – but the gains would be unsustainable. Unless he is prepared to massively increase the value of his health tax credits every year then his plan would eventually take us back to where we are right now.
Like many timid politicians Burr does not want to propose cost control ideas because those tend to upset special interests. Instead, he says we should use more electronic medical records, eat some vegetables, and take an extra lap around the track.
So don't be fooled when Burr starts talking up his proposals for health reform. The truth is that he has done nothing for the uninsured. He has done nothing for children. And he has done nothing constructive in Congress for health care besides offering up an empty bill with a snazzy title.
Adam Linker is a Policy Analyst at the N.C. Health Access Coalition