Howard Dean: Health Care Bill 'Bigger Bailout for the Insurance Industry Than AIG'

Former Democratic leader urges lawmakers to kill the bill and start over.

December 16, 2009, 7:01 AM

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2009— -- President Obama said he likes the Senate health care compromise and wants it passed by Christmas, but he faces a revolt from some liberals who say the health care bill has been gutted to appease insurance companies.

"This is a bigger bailout for the insurance industry than AIG," former Democratic National Committee chairman and medical doctor Howard Dean told "Good Morning America's" George Stephanopoulos today. "A very small number of people are going to get any insurance at all, until 2014, if the bill works.

"This is an insurance company's dream, this bill," Dean continued. "This is the Washington scramble, and I think it's ill-advised."

Dean sent shockwaves when he said Tuesday in an interview with Vermont Public Radio that the removal of the Medicare buy-in means Democrats should just kill the health care bill and start over.

"This is essentially the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate," Dean said. "Honestly, the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill, go back to the House, start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill."

The former Democratic presidential candidate argues that in the rush to pass a health care bill, lawmakers have essentially stripped it of true reforms -- mainly the choices it would give to people -- and given too much to special interest groups and insurance companies, the chief executives of which, Dean says, would get 27 percent of the money Americans contribute.

"We've gotten to this stage ... in Washington where passing any bill is a victory, and that's the problem," Dean said. "Decisions are being about the long-term future of this country for short-term political reasons, and that's never a good sign."

He said he also doesn't see cost-control measures but, rather "a whole bunch of bureaucracies and a lot of promises."

There are some good elements in the current health care bill, Dean said, but "at this point, the bill does more harm than good."

The former Vermont governor said he would suggest using money allocated for community health centers and wellness and prevention programs to help people buy insurance and that less power be transferred into the hands of the private insurance companies.

Dean, who said he believes the bill will pass the Senate, initially supported health care legislation.

"I've been involved in this all along. I put up with a lot of stuff I didn't like because I thought at the end of the day what was good about the bill outweighed what's bad about the bill," Dean said. "I don't believe that anymore."

Democratic leaders in the Senate argue that even without the option of expanding Medicare or providing government-run insurance to compete with the private sector, the bill will still cover millions of uninsured Americans and is worth passing.

"I disagree with Howard Dean," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Tuesday in an interview with ABC News. "Howard Dean is a medical doctor. He has to know what it will mean when 30 million Americans are finally going to have health insurance, that peace of mind and protection for the first time in their lives. For many of them, that is a dramatic step forward."

Democrats Divided on Health Care Bill

On Tuesday, following a meeting with Democratic leaders at the White House, Obama urged Democrats to find a consensus, saying the time for bickering is over.

"I am absolutely confident that if the American people know what's in this bill, and the Senate knows what's in this bill, it will pass, because it's right for America," the president said.

"We simply cannot allow differences over individual elements of this plan to prevent us from meeting our responsibility to solve a longstanding and urgent problem for the American people. They are waiting for us to act."

White House officials say Obama made the case to Democrats that this might be the last chance to make progress on health care overhaul before the 2010 elections, and before his political capital possibly diminishes later in his first term.

For congressional Democrats, deep differences remain on the so-called Medicare buy-in, which, if included, would have allowed Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 to buy into Medicare. However, the central tenets of that compromise reached last week between Democrats were stripped from the bill because of the objections of independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who said he would not support the legislation if it contained that option "because it reportedly has some of the same infirmities that the public option did."

Democratic leaders need Lieberman's vote to avoid a Republican filibuster, but liberals are unhappy, saying the bill has been gutted to please one senator.

All eyes are also on Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., whose amendment to impose tighter regulations on abortion coverage was voted down earlier this month. Democrats are counting on his support to get the needed 60 votes but he has not said how he will vote.

There's unlikely to be any Republican support. Even moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who had been working with Democrats for months, said she can't support the bill in its current form.

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