Monday, December 14, 2009

Lieberman Reverses Self On Medicare Buy-in, Insurance Stocks Soar

In case you were looking for something to make your stomach turn at the start of your week, I want to point to the recent comments made by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT).

Over the weekend, Lieberman told Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that he would vote against any health care legislation that would include the Medicare buy-in compromise and that would contain a public option.

This is interesting consider that Lieberman supported a Medicare buy-in in 2000:

He said during the interview that the fastest growing group of
uninsured are those 55 to 65. For that reason, the ticket proposes
an expansion of Medicare to allow those and older to buy into the
public program. There would still be a buy-in price but it would be
less than buying private insurance, he said.

and from an interview with the Connecticut Post in September of this year:

Lieberman added that he supports mandating that no one can be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions and that everyone be required to have health insurance.

As to how 47 million uninsured will afford coverage, Lieberman said only 12 million don't have insurance because they cannot afford it.

By allowing citizens who are not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid to buy in for a rate below the private market, the government can extend coverage to more of those who are currently uninsured, he said.

Why the sudden change? Ezra Klein has some ideas:

Incoherence is no crime, of course. But it is telling. Lieberman could have simply opposed the public option because it implied too much government involvement in the marketplace. Instead, he opposed it based on things that wouldn't happen, or weren't happening, and never softened his position as those statements were successively exposed as fraudulent. That, again, suggests something more fundamental than a policy argument.

Or take Lieberman's procedural decisions. The Medicare buy-in compromise was developed by the so-called "Team of Ten": the five liberals and five moderates that Harry Reid asked to meet and develop a path forward. Lieberman was asked to join the original group. He skipped the meetings, eventually being replaced by Tom Carper. That puts his opposition in a different category than Nelson and Snowe, both of whom dug deep into the process, working on issues and in groups and signaling clearly what they could and could not support.


If you had attempted to forecast Lieberman's behavior based on his past positions, you would have failed. His support for Medicare buy-in, and for various other health-care bills, would quickly have misled you. If you had attempted to forecast his behavior based on the attitudes of his constituents, you would also have failed. They support the public option and oppose health-care reform, while Lieberman professes to believe the opposite. But if you had attempted to forecast Lieberman's positions based on his ongoing grudge match with the liberals who defeated him in the 2006 primary, you'd have nailed it perfectly. He has, at every point, taken aim at the policies that liberals support, even when they are policies that Lieberman himself has supported.

Lieberman's obstructionism certainly points more toward his seemingly insatiable appetite for sticking it to liberals rather than a principled objection to the current legislation. How does the White House respond? By telling Sen. Reid to compromise with Lieberman:

The White House is encouraging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to cut a deal with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), which would mean eliminating the proposed Medicare expansion in the health reform bill, according to an official close to the negotiations.

But Reid is described as so frustrated with Lieberman that he is not ready to sacrifice a key element of the health care bill, and first wants to see the Congressional Budget Office cost analysis of the Medicare buy-in. The analysis is expected early this week.

The White House is denying the report but as Jane Hamsher observes:

It’s quite convenient that what Joe Lieberman is demanding — no public option, no Medicare buy-in — happens to look just like the Senate Finance Committee bill that the White House wrote with Baucus...Joe gets his way by giving Obama what he wanted anyway. Sweet.

Wall Street thinks it is sweet too:

Wells Fargo Securities analyst Matthew Perry said Lieberman’s comments are good news for managed-care stocks as anything that delays health-care reform is a positive for the group.

“Every time the reform seems less likely that it will happen, the entire group trades higher,” said Perry, who has advised his clients to buy shares of Wellcare Health Plans Inc. (WCG), recently up 1.3% to $36.74, and Humana Inc. (HUM), up 1% to $42.26.

Among the other recent gainers in the sector, Aetna rose 2.7% to $32.65, Cigna Corp. (CI) added 2.3% to $36.41 and Well Point Inc. (WLP) gained 2.7% to $58.07. Meanwhile, UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH) added 1.6% to $30.99.

Video of Lieberman supporting a Medicare buy-in just three months ago:

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