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Rarely Used Closed Doors Slammed Again in U.S. Senate Health Care Reform; Sen. Max Baucus Must Publicly Answer 10 Questions About Mandatory Purchase of Health Insurance

WASHINGTON, May 20 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- For the second time in two weeks, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee today invoked rules -- allowing a closed door committee session barring the public, media and with no Congressional Record -- reserved for unusual circumstances, like national security issues and trade secrets.

Consumer Watchdog called on the committee to publicly answer ten questions about how its plan to require all Americans to show proof of insurance or face tax penalties will provide affordable health care. Questions listed below.

Download Consumer Watchdog's letter to Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Finance Committee, sent prior to last week's closed meeting here:

In the letter to Senator Baucus, Consumer Watchdog wrote:

"Americans should not be locked out of any discussion about health care reform, particularly one that will consider whether everyone should be required to buy health insurance policies without any limits on what insurers can charge. Mandatory purchases of private insurance policies without offering a public alternative to the private market is nothing other than a bailout for HMOs -- whose greed, waste and indifference to our health have created the current mess.

"There's no mention of cost-cutting in the Senate Finance Committee's 'policy options' document being discussed in today's closed meeting -- no regulation of HMO premiums, no limits on how much consumers will have to pay out of their own pocket in co-pays or deductibles."

Last week the Senate Finance Committee circulated a "policy options" white paper to be discussed in today's meeting, which excludes members of the media and public. The senate finance document makes the president's promised "public option" to the private insurance market optional, and does not include cost controls.

Senator Max Baucus has received more campaign contributions from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries than any other current Democratic member of the House or Senate; the third highest contributions of any member of Congress.

Consumer Watchdog posed the following 10 questions to Senator Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee, and members of Congress about the affordability of the mandatory purchase of insurance policies:

1. Senate rules appear to only allow committees to meet in closed session under very limited circumstances, including discussions concerning national defense and protection of trade secrets, none of which appear to apply to today's meeting. What Senate rule justifies today's closed-door committee meeting?

2. Why have you offered such deference to the top lobbyists of the insurance industry, which bears a large share of the responsibility for the current health care crisis, while locking consumers and consumer advocates out of the debate?

3. The only guaranteed provision in the "policy options" report is that every American would have to file proof of an insurance policy with their tax returns on April 15, 2013 or face tax penalties. How does threatening Americans with tax penalties lead to affordable health care?

4. If there are no limits on how much an insurance company can charge for the coverage that Americans will be required to buy, how can you promise that it will be affordable?

5. Your policy options do not adequately protect Americans against low-benefit, junk insurance that fails to provide access to necessary benefits and does not limit out-of-pocket expenses (co-pays and deductibles) when patients get sick. How does "owning" an insurance policy under these circumstances equal being able to get health care?

6. There are documented cases of insured people facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills. Without a cap on out-of-pocket expenses, how can you prevent this?

7. Your report says that, with few exceptions, hefty tax penalties will be levied against Americans that don't either purchase coverage or get it through their job. Is it true that only Christian Scientists would avoid tax penalties without having to prove their income?

8. One of the options that the committee is considering is to not require any employers to chip in for health insurance. Why isn't the committee considering an option where Americans would not be forced to buy coverage?

9. Your plan focuses on "wellness" services. But if patients face a $5000 deductible how will they pay for treatment for severe obesity, diabetes prevention, or even effective smoking cessation?

10. Your plan does not clearly protect state laws providing access to necessary health care services like a California woman's right to visit an OB-GYN, a New Jersey child's access to a Hepatitis B inoculation, a Tennessee patient's coverage for diabetes treatment, and other benefits including screenings for cervical and prostate cancers. Will states be allowed to require additional health benefits beyond those required under federal rules, or will federal rules pre-empt more expansive state benefits?

** Read Consumer Watchdog's letter to President Obama and Sens. Kennedy and Baucus warning them not to agree to agree to the health insurers' plan to gut state health care laws.

** Read Consumer Watchdog's letter to U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) urging that he continue to protect patients consistent with the principles he has articulated during his 40 year career.

** Read Consumer Watchdog's analysis of health insurer and drug company contributions to members of Congress.

** Read about a recent national poll that found that 65% of voters support giving every American of any age the option of joining Medicare; 60% are willing to pay more in payroll deductions for this option.

** Read about a national poll that found, by contrast, that only 16% of U.S. voters support, and 53% oppose, the insurance industries' plan of requiring every American to provide proof of private health insurance or face tax penalties or other fines.

Consumer Watchdog is a non-profit and non-partisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and Santa Monica, California. For more information, visit us on the web at:

SOURCE Consumer Watchdog
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