Over the course of Olympia Snowe's career in the US Senate, companies and workers in the healthcare and insurance industries have been her top donors (except for retirees and retiree political-action committees, which are obviously also concerned with healthcare issues).
And as she wades into the middle of the healthcare-reform debate, Snowe — who declined to answer Phoenix questions about her donors' influence — is urging the exasperated American public to give private health-insurance companies one more chance.
Snowe, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee (which handles healthcare issues), says she is afraid that a government-run health-insurance option (an option, mind you, not a mandatory-participation program) would unfairly compete with the private sector. She told the Associated Press last week, "If you establish a public option at the forefront that goes head-to-head and competes with the private health insurance market the public option will have significant price advantages."
That is, Snowe fears that the public option will be cheaper than the choices offered by private insurers. Of course, lower costs are precisely what Americans are seeking in healthcare reform.
But Snowe — and her colleague Senator Susan Collins (for whom healthcare and insurance-industry gifts are among the top six campaign donors) — are instead seeking to protect the insurers, advocating for delaying the public option until it is demonstrated that the private companies can't expand coverage and decrease costs. Instead, they are advocating a system by which taxpayer-funded subsidies would help Americans pay private insurers' market rates for health-insurance plans.
They neglect two vital facts. First, healthcare is a basic human right — though Snowe, through her press secretary, Julia Wanzco, declined to say whether she believes that, saying only that she supports "universal access" to care. Second, private companies have already proved unwilling to solve the problem: insurance premiums nationwide have doubled over the last 10 years (income hasn't followed suit, obviously), and insurance-company profits have quadrupled. Forty-seven states, including Maine, have near-monopoly situations in which one or only a very few companies control the health-insurance market.
Progressives throughout the country, and all over the Internet, are screaming. And they are acting, seeking tales of woe from those struggling to get and pay for healthcare, sending pollsters out into the streets to ask people for their opinions, and airing television ads urging constituents to contact their senators to urge more reform. Last Wednesday in Portland and Augusta, Mainers took to the streets to oppose the high premiums of Maine's near-monopoly health-insurance provider, Anthem.
Citing figures that show premiums in Maine rose five times faster than the state's median income, and that Anthem continue to show massive profits despite the poor economy, the protesters called on Snowe and Collins to support a public option from the get-go. At the rallies, organized by the Maine People's Alliance, a progressive advocacy group, several Mainers spoke about their problems with the private health-insurance industry, citing high prices and low benefits.
While progressives cite stats like the Wall Street Journal's recent poll showing 75 percent of Americans are strong supporters of an government-run option, both Snowe's and Collins's offices say that the thousands of constituent comments they have received show, in Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley's words, "little agreement on what ought to be done."