Friday, 6 November 2009

Made in America*

Many criticisms of the conservative opposition to the Democratic health care reform effort start with some iteration of "Well, smarty-pants, where is the *Republican* plan, if you guys have a better idea?" In the case of the GOP's previous efforts to come up with some semblance of a plan, that was a perfectly valid complaint. Now, however, the conservative approach to health care reform seems to have coalesced around a few basic principles: allow "inter-state competition" between insurance plans and enact tort reform.

Now there's plenty wrong with the second plank, but this post is regarding the first. Bruce Webb at MyDD waded through the Boehner Amendment to HR3962, and discovered this interesting tidbit:

Title III introduces a ringer. Although the Title is called Expanding Choices by Allowing Americans to Buy Health Care Coverage Across State Lines what it really means is that insurers can simply pick any state they like as their 'primary state' and be governed almost entirely by its rules in selling into 'secondary states'. Okay that is really not good, think how many credit card companies are officially based in South Dakota because of its lenient laws.

This has been my primary argument against "interstate competition" from the get-go. Webb's mention of the credit card scenario is particularly illustrative because once "interstate competition" was applied to credit cards, they did exactly what insurance companies will do if this policy is enacted - find the state willing to play the fastest and the loosest with consumer protection laws and head there ASAP. However, things get even worse from there:

Under Title III 'State' is defined as the fifty states, D.C., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Marianas (p.122)...Now this language is followed by a bunch more pages setting out rules about lawsuits and appeals but the bottom line is pretty clear: should private insurers choose they can officially choose the Virgin Islands or the Northern Marianas as the governing jurisdiction for all their individual insurance policies and their is basically nothing the states of California, New York or Washington can do about it.

As Webb points out later, the Marianas are a particularly noxious addition to the health insurance framework, as they are basically a capitalistic Wild West where mainland U.S. labor and regulatory rules do not apply. Of course, the Republicans are no strangers to the siren song of the Marianas:

Moved by the sworn testimony of U.S. officials and human-rights advocates that the 91 percent of the workforce who were immigrants -- from China, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh -- were being paid barely half the U.S. minimum hourly wage and were forced to live behind barbed wire in squalid shacks minus plumbing, work 12 hours a day, often seven days a week, without any of the legal protections U.S. workers are guaranteed, Murkowski wrote a bill to extend the protection of U.S. labor and minimum-wage laws to the workers in the U.S. territory of the Northern Marianas.

But one man primarily stopped the U.S. House from even considering that worker-reform bill: then-House Republican Whip Tom DeLay.

Later, DeLay would tell The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin that the low-wage, anti-union conditions of the Marianas constituted "a perfect petri dish of capitalism. It's like my Galapagos Island."

The Northern Marianas: a right-wing wonderland of open sewers and slave labor - and soon "home" of your new health insurance plan!

* - Another reason the Marianas are infamous is that because they are American territories, the garments stitched together by workers there can display the "Made in America" label, even though they were produced in sweatshop conditions that would be illegal here on the mainland.

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