CHIMPS: Making a Monkey out of You and Me

CHIMPS, as in "changes in mandatory program spending." In order to reach the FY 2011 budget accord to avert the government shutdown on Friday night, Democrats came up with $17 billion worth of CHIMPS—cuts in things such as agricultural subsidies or certain banking and justice programs that fall under the umbrella of "mandatory government spending."  

Details are now emerging as to what precisely these CHIMPS cuts entail. From the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:

As Senator Schumer (D-NY) and other Democrats had called for, the package includes "changes in mandatory programs" (CHIMPs) which essentially allows some mandatory cuts to be counted as discretionary. In fact, almost half the savings -- $17.8 billion of the $38 billion -- comes from cuts to mandatory programs.

This does include two changes to the health care reform law that will affect mandatory spending. These changes would cut $2 billion from the budget for non-profit health insurance co-operatives (the CO-OP program, which is intended to function as a weaker version of the public option) and it would eliminate a part of the law that would allow low-income earners to opt out of employer-sponsored health insurance to purchase insurance on the new exchanges.

Other details about the CHIMPs are unknown at this point.

So just like that gone are the herculean efforts of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden to win two key ideas on health care cost containment in the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Senator Wyden, who was the architect of the opt-out provision, lamented its demise.

“Publicly,” Mr. Wyden said, “both parties say they are champions of choice and competition and making health insurance more affordable for everyone. But then behind closed doors they kill a program that does exactly that. This seems like a victory for special interests.”

Many employers had objected to the Wyden provision, saying it would increase their costs by allowing younger and healthier entry-level employees to opt out of employer-sponsored plans. Still it is the loss of funding for the non-profit health insurance co-operatives, the most progressive idea in the corporate give away that is Affordable Care Act,  that is just simply devastating. These were fought for tooth and nail by Senator Sanders. They were seen as a consolation prize on the lack of a public option. For the insurance industry and the GOP however, these non-profit health insurance co-operatives were considered as laying the framework for some future public option.

Indeed at the time of this debate, progressive voices warned that "a non-profit public co-op instead of a government run public option is not the solution.  It leaves for-profit insurers a legislative means for tearing them down.  It is their Trojan Horse.  It is their means for eventually tearing down the co-ops or buying them outright and stripping away any pretense of public benefit." That day has come to pass. The most progressive feature, the one that does the most to reign in health care costs, of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 has been gutted.

We have not only been defeated, we have been betrayed.


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