Sunday, September 20, 2009

In Support of the Public Option

President Obama has set a clear goal of comprehensive health care reform before the end of this year. He has boldly determined that deferring urgent changes to the American health care system cannot wait another year. But in accomplishing this goal, Congress has a responsibility to make sure health care reform serves the public interest and not the narrow goals of Washington lobbyists.

In the growing debate over President Obama's health care plan, insurance companies have made very clear their opposition to the provision of the option of an afforable public health insurance plan to every American. This opposition is based entirely on the insurance industry's fear that a viable public insurance option will cut into the potential future profits of the industry.

From the beginning of the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama has argued that every American has right to an affordable health insurance plan that will be there when it's needed. The not-for-profit, Medicare-like public insurance plan included in the House health care bill and the Senate HELP Committee bill fulfill this goal. But this is not an abstract, philosophical policy stance. Including such a public plan is key to preventing future cartel-like behavior among private health insurers. This is because the pricing inside the health insurance exchange that lies at the heart of the proposed reforms will rely on insurer bidding on the price of converage. If private insurers decide to collectively bid 20 percent higher than necessary in order to expand profits for shareholders and executive, that will cost the American people hundreds of billions in higher premiums and wasted taxpayer dollars.

A viable public health insurance option will keep the insurance industry honest and including such an option in health care reform is a no-lose bargain for the American people. If a public insurance option proves inefficient or undesirable, individuals will be able to choose from a variety of private plans. If a public plan is effective, it will keep costs low and quality high across the marketplace. And when President Obama signs a health care reform bill that includes the choice of robust public insurance option for Americans, it will be proof that the grip of the special interests over our Congress is loosening and Washington is really changing.

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