A public health insurance option that provides a basic level of coverage is vital to enacting real health care reform.
It’s the one proposal being discussed that would supply market competition, squeezing some of the hundreds of billions spent annually on health care not going towards the delivery of medical services. The lack of a public option is one of the principal reasons our nation pays $7,900 a year per person on health care yet produces a shorter life span than nations that spent half that amount.
Reports this week that the administration is backtracking on their support for the public option are disturbing. Why, when the three key House Committees have already passed health reform bills that include a public option, should this proposal be preemptively taken off the table? The public option has a tough road in the Senate, no question. But failing to at the least try and pass a bill with a public option is self-defeating and, quite frankly, not acceptable.
Likewise, despite what some Senators have argued this week to the contrary, a co-op insurance plan is not a substitute for a public option. Experts believe you need roughly 500,000 people to join before a co-op could viably negotiate with health care providers. Start-up costs are high and it can take years, even decades, to establish a network that is competitive with private insurers. Public cooperatives are currently authorized in many states and used with some moderate success. They should obviously continue to be an available alternative, but they are not a substitute for a national public plan option.
For more discussion on the front burner issue of health care reform, next Tuesday I will be hosting a town hall on the topic with Howard Dean. We’ll be at South Lakes High School in Reston from 7:00PM to 9:00PM. Doors open at 6:00PM. I hope you can make it out; it should be a lively debate, one that I hope will cut through a lot of the disinformation that has been spread on this issue.