Senior White House officials began to more aggressively dispute criticisms of Democratic Senate health care reform legislation from former Democratic National Committee chairman Dr. Howard Dean Wednesday, saying the former Vermont governor made arguments that “simply weren’t true” and “flat-out wrong.”
On "Good Morning America" this morning, Dean argued that the bill's mandate that individuals obtain health insurance, while not offering a government-run public health care option, means the bill is "an insurance company's dream."
“If this is an insurance company's dream, I think the insurance companies have yet to get the memo,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at his daily briefing. “Insurance companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying against this legislation… If this is such a good deal for them, I'm not entirely sure why they're fighting it.”
On Vermont Public Radio Tuesday, Dean called for Democratic senators to kill the bill.
"I don't think any rational person would say killing a bill makes any sense at this point,” Gibbs said today.
Asked why he thought Dean was making the arguments he’s making, Gibbs said, “I can’t tell what his motives are.” He said the Senate legislation was essentially what Dean “campaigned for in 2004” but better.
(As an aside, it may be worth recalling that Gibbs, who worked for the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in 2004, left the Kerry campaign and helped run a shadowy 527 organization aimed at defeating Dean, “Americans for Jobs, Healthcare & Progressive Values,” which ran a TV ad in Iowa depicting Osama bin Laden with the voice-over narration, “Howard Dean just cannot compete with George Bush on foreign policy.")
The 2004 presidential candidate told George Stephanopoulos on GMA that "there are some good things in this bill. The problem is, we're now committed to a solution using the private insurance companies. And you will be forced to buy insurance. If you don't, you'll pay a fine. And 27% of the money that you put in will not go to your health care. It will go to CEOs, who make $20 million a year. This is a bigger bailout for the insurance industry than AIG."
Dean added that he doesn't "believe there's going to be the money around in five years… because the insurance companies are charging so much.” He said a provision in the legislation prohibited insurance companies from denying coverage to individuals based on pre-existing conditions “has disappeared essentially. The fine print in this bill allows that insurance companies charge you three-times as much if you're older than they do if you're younger.”
Said Gibbs, “I don't know what piece of legislation he's reading.”
Gibbs offered a detailed rebuttal of Dean’s assertions, saying “nobody will be required to purchase something they can't afford. There are hardship exemptions and subsidies based on income levels that help people afford insurance.”
Dean said that 27% of the fine imposed on those who don’t have insurance “will go to CEOs who make $20 million a year.”
“I don't have the slightest idea where the fact of 27 percent came from,” Gibbs said, adding that Dean “went on later in the interview to discuss the notion that legislation…no longer contains anything that addresses pre-existing conditions. That's simply flat-out wrong. Later in the interview, he said that he didn't see any cost control in the bill, when every health economist that's evaluated the bill says that any idea that's out there to contain costs is actually contained in the bill.”
Earlier today, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer posted a blog item calling Dean's argument "somewhat perplexing" given that the "insurance industry has been leveraging its considerable resources in a ferocious effort to defeat this bill, including producing a report the day before the Senate Finance Committee vote that was so misleading the firm behind it had to walk away from it."
Pfeiffer claimed that among the many provisions in the bill are those “to end insurer abuses, lower premiums, and hold insurance companies accountable.” Moreover, he said, insurance reforms “will prohibit abuses such as denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, charging exorbitant premiums based on gender, age, or health status, dropping coverage when people are sick, and imposing lifetime limits on benefits.”
Dean said on GMA that in Washington, DC, "passing any bill is a victory. And that's the problem. Decisions are made about the long-term future in this country for short-term political reasons."