Will the real predator please stand up?

Foes claim public option would prey on insurance companies' profits

Who are the predators — government or the for-profit insurance industry?

A column by Thomas Frank in the Wall Street Journal made us pause and scratch our heads this week because it prompted one of those questions that we think lots of Americans must be asking themselves. The question is simply this:

Are President Obama and his Democratic Party up to no good in this health reform battle?

[Conservatives: Insert “Obviously!” here.]

The question, more specifically, might be “Is President Obama trying to turn the government into a predator?” or “Would the passage of a public option be a predatory move by government?”

[Conservatives: You can again insert “Obviously!” here.]

Phrase it however you like. As the WSJ column points out, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) – who has been up to his hip waders in the health reform battle – said last week that a public option turns the government into a predator. And Sen. John Thune, (R-SD), has apparently agreed.

‘I know you are but what am I?’

The WSJ’s Frank thinks those two legislators have it backwards. Could be he right?

After all, what seems more predatory? A government insurance option, the stated purpose of which is to increase competition with private industry to drive insurance costs down for all consumers? or “actuarial-minded hardliners of the insurance biz, the ones who deny your claim or cancel your policy?”

We understand the concept of a “predatory government.” It’s a government that stands back and watches as the foxes of private industry feed on the hen house of American citizenry. We’ve seen it happen when corporations sucked the economic lifeblood of the nation through no-bid defense contracts. And we’ve seen it happen when, as Frank points out, the government used a prescription drug benefit to herd millions of Americans into the waiting arms of the pharmaceutical industry.

The “predator state,” Frank writes, materializes “when consumer protection, worker protection, environmental protection, and policing against fraud are handed over to lobbyists. And when health care is run for the benefit of private insurance companies, whose business model . . . is to target coverage on the healthy and delay payments to the sick.”

Keys to the hen house?

So is a public option “predatory?” We don’t think so. But we agree with Frank that without a public option, Congress may be putting its efforts into getting all of our hens in one hen house – and then committing the most predatory act imaginable: handing the foxes the keys.

Fundraising scorecard

Political contributions from the health industry:
Grassley: $2.9 million (despite the fact Iowans support a public option)
Thune: $1.2 million

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