Rep. Anthony Weiner, the New York Democratic leading a liberal revolt against President Obama’s plan to jettison the public option from the controversial healthcare reform bill, called today for an outright public takeover of the U.S. health-insurance industry.
Weiner’s statements on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Program calling for a complete federal takeover left host Joe Scarborough, a former GOP Congressman, describing himself as “speechless” and “astounded.”
Weiner’s support for a true takeover of the healthcare system appeared to confirm the worst fears voiced by town hall protesters, who have warned healthcare reform would actually become a backdoor means of instituting a European-style, single-payer system, in which the government plays a key role in managing healthcare options available to individual patients.
The exchange began as Scarborough tried to get the New York congressman to elaborate on his healthcare views.
Said Weiner: “I have heard people say repeatedly, ‘Well, if the public option is too muscular, then the insurance companies won’t be able to compete.’ Well, if they can’t compete then they’re not going to get customers, they’re not going to get patients coming to them. Isn’t that what we want, to give people that choice?”
Weiner said he essentially advocates “Medicare for all Americans,” while allowing for privately owned hospitals and medical practices to provide actual services.
“The problem that we have here,” Weiner continued, “is we’re trying to jury rig the system so that insurance companies continue to make health profits. Why? What does an insurance company – they don’t do a single check-up, they don’t do a single exam, they don’t perform an operation. Medicare has a 4 percent overhead rate. Insurance companies take about $230 billion out of the system every year in profits and overhead. The real question is, ‘Why do we have a private plan?’”
Scarborough’s answer: “Because we’re a country that believes in free enterprise, if I’m not mistaken.”
When Scarborough suggested Weiner couldn’t really be advocating the end of the private health-insurance sector – which employs about half a million U.S. workers – Weiner replied, “What are they providing? This is not providing, essentially, a government service.”
“It sounds like you think there is no need for us to have private health-insurance companies,” Scarborough repeated, as if giving Weiner an opportunity to modify his position.
“Well,” Weiner shot back, “I’ve asked you three times: What is their value? What are insurance companies bringing to the deal?”
The notion that private insurance firms should have to justify their existence to the federal government left Scarborough nonplussed.
“But see, you are making the conservatives’ point,” Scarborough replied. “You are making the point [of people who attend] the town hall meetings and say, ‘This is Barack Obama’s opportunity to get with healthcare and turn it completely over to the federal government.’ And so I’m sitting here stunned, saying, ‘Oh my God, you’re making the point of the healthcare protesters.’”
Weiner went on to tell Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski that “unfortunately” the president does not share his views.
“Barack Obama doesn’t want to do what I want to do,” Weiner said. “There’s going to be a vote on my plan…. Barack Obama doesn’t want to do the Weiner plan. I wish he was. We’re going to have a chance to vote on mine. I might have more votes than his plan does.”
Weiner’s advocacy for a complete government takeover of the healthcare sector follows his strong reaction yesterday to President Obama’s willingness to accept a healthcare reform proposal that does not include a government-subsidized option for health insurance.
Yesterday, Weiner objected that healthcare reform without a true public option would be pointless, and said dropping the public option would cost Obama 100 votes in the House.
"If [Obama] says, 'Well, we're not going to have that,' then I'm not really quite sure what we're doing here anymore," he told CNBC.
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