Sen. Ben Nelson’s conversion skin-deep

Nebraskans need to ask their moderate Senator whom he represents

Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a former CEO of an insurance company, has been parroting the talking points of the health insurance industry line in opposing a public health insurance option in any health reform legislation. In an interview in early May he called it a “deal-breaker.” He’s the only Democrat to publicly oppose a public plan. His opposition was not passive as he pledged to gather together a coalition of other Senators to help defeat a public plan.

According to the non-partisan watchdog Center for Responsive Politics, over the course of three campaigns Nelson has accepted more than $2 million in campaign contributions from the health care industry, which begs the question: “Who does Nelson represent?”

Another citizen’s group, Change Congress, has called Nelson out on this conflict of interest and has begun mailing information on Nelson to Nebraska residents, as well as whipping up a storm on the Internet.

Nelson has quickly responded to the heat, saying he would now consider a public plan.

All good now? No, not so fast. Nelson’s new-found openness is only skin deep. As reported on The Thom Hartmann Program last week, Nelson is proposing a seven-year wait on any such public plan, and that such a plan only be triggered if the private health insurance industry fails to meet a set of goals defined for it by Congress.

The need for a public plan

Does this strike anyone else as being disingenuous?  The old bait-and-switch. The shell game. The emperor has no clothes. “Pay no attention to the insurance industry shill behind the curtain.”

It’s important to have a public plan option because of the nature of capitalism. Health insurance companies are not in the business of delivering health care … they are in the business of delivering profits to their shareholders. In fact, the more claims they deny, the more profits they make. There is a natural disincentive to pay benefits.

The United States spends six times more per capita on administrative costs of health care than any Western European nation. That’s not care; that’s paper shuffling and profit taking.

Many studies have shown the administrative costs of health care eats up more than 20 percent of health care expenditures. Physicians for a National Health Program (PHPH), a national group of more than 16,000 physicians, put administrative waste at 31 percent. They report the average overhead of private U.S. insurers to be 11.7 percent, which they compare unfavorably with the 1.3 percent overhead on Canada’s single-payer system, and the 3.6 percent of American’s current public health plan for seniors, Medicare.

Back to Sen. Nelson

So the first round of public pressure has gotten Nelson to change his tune, but he’s really not in step with the rest of the chorus line. He needs constant “encouragement” to break rank with the industry that is not only where he came from, but which continues to suckle him.

We call on all Nebraskans to make their voices heard:

  • Omaha, call 402-391-3411
  • Lincoln, call 402-441-4600
  • Scottsbluff call 308-631-7614
  • Kearney call 308-293-5818
  • South Sioux City call 402-209-3595
  • For the Washington, D.C. office, call 202-224-6551

While you’re at it, we note that 83 percent of Nelson’s insurance industry contributions come from outside of Nebraska. Which reinforces the earlier question: “Whom does Nelson represent?” You might want to ask him.

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