On One Hand

June 18, 2009

Tell your legislators to support a public option!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 1:08 pm
Tags: ,

I’m sure that few of you are unaware of the healthcare crisis facing the United States; American healthcare is more expensive than healthcare in any other nation on Earth, yet we provide coverage to fewer people than any other developed country. We also have shorter lifespans and poorer health due to incomplete coverage than most other developed nations.

One of the focal points of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was a public option for health insurance.

What’s a public option? A Public Option creates a publicly-owned health insurance provider. It gives individuals the choice to buy health insurance from the federal government if private companies refuse to insure them or do not charge reasonable rates. It would not be free, but would more than likely cost less than private insurance for the same product. There would be no “pre-existing condition” clause and you would not have to “qualify” for this insurance. Meanwhile, a public, not-for-profit system would have less incentive to find excuses from paying for parts or all of an individual’s medical care. It could be scaled so that low-income people pay a reduced rate.

Expanding affordable health insurance coverage lowers healthcare costs for everyone. Expanded coverage means hospitals are not forced to foot the bill when uninsured people allow themselves to get sicker and sicker until they are hospitalized, but cannot afford to pay the hospital for treatment. The hospital must raise treatment costs for everyone to avoid debt. Treatment would be cheaper if the same people had insurance coverage and got early treatment which costs much less.

Perhaps most importantly, a public option would add competition to the healthcare system. If the government could come out with a better product at lower cost, people would flood into that system and pressure private companies to come up with better deals or find ways to cut costs. But if the government option was failing, or if individuals didn’t want to choose the public option, the private markets would still be there. It allows the public and private center to provide checks and balances on each others’ runaway costs.

The public option is a great compromise between a nationalized, single-payer system used in Europe and most developed countries, and private insurance that is currently failing in the United States. It doesn’t abolish the existing market, and incorporates free-market principles of competition, so escapes the heavy political opposition that “socialized” single-payer healthcare has.

But moderate Democrats in “purple” states are now capitulating to Republicans and insurance companies who oppose any form of public option – so while 75% of Americans support an extensive reform of the healthcare system so that everyone can be covered (scroll down after link for healthcare section), our elected leaders are compromising to a system that would attempt to limit the cost of health insurance but couldn’t possibly cover everyone and would make it easier for health insurance companies to find loopholes in new regulation. The political pressure is too strong for the government to avoid passing reform legislation, but they may ultimately do so in a way that siphons off that public will without leading to real change.

President Obama still supports a public option, but the American Medical Association, the largest lobbying group for doctors, and the health insurance industry have come out in opposition, and are joined by an increasing number of elected officials including Democratic senators. Even Tom Dashle, former Democratic Senate Majority Leader, is saying that though he thinks a public option is vital, Democrats may have to compromise by scrapping it.

This is going to come down to who can howl louder. Can you?

Dear Senator Bennet:

I am deeply troubled to hear that many Democrats are abandoning President Obama’s call for a public option for health insurance. Adding a public option is the minimum acceptable amount of reform to expand access to healthcare.

Healthcare is the greatest challenge that our nation faces from one decade to the next. I vote in the primaries as well as in general elections, and always support candidates who beleive in that the choice to have health insurance should be universal.

A public option is, in itself, a compromise with free-market advocates who oppose single-payer healthcare. It leaves private insurance plans in place and gives each American person or family a choice. What could be a better way to synthesize all interests than to leave both public and private options on the table?

MOST Americans support expanding choice in health care. We do not need to further a compromise with conservatives by gutting healthcare reform of its intent to create a systemic change. According to all the rececnt polling, numbers on the order of three quarters of Americans are on board with a drastic overhall of the healthcare system in order to make universal coverage possible. We need a public option to put pressure on private providers to lower their costs and improve the product!

I speak to my family and friends on this issue, and even individuals far more conservative than I am are in support of a public option.

How tragic would it be if our elected officials were so gutless as to let the majority interest fail for the interests of a few very rich and powerful institutions.

I hope I can count on your support for a public option, and that you will give the president your support and encourage your colleagues in the Senate to do so as well.

Sincerely,
Matthew Pizzuti
Boulder, Colorado


Colorado Senators:

Mark Emery Udall
Mark Udall for Colorado
P.O. Box 40158
Denver , CO , 80204 United States
Colorado Democratic Senator
email

Michael Bennet
2300 15th St., Suite 450
Denver, Colorado 80202
Phone: (303) 455-7600
Toll Free: (866) 455-9866
Fax: (303) 455-8851
Colorado Democratic Senator
email

Moderate Democratic and Republican senators on the fence:

Claire McCaskill
DC Address: The Honorable Claire McCaskill
United States Senate
717 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-2504
DC Phone: 202-224-6154
DC Fax: 202-228-6326
Missouri Democratic Senator
email

John Tester
Helena
Capital One Center
208 N Montana Avenue, Suite 202
Helena, MT 59601
Phone: (406) 449-5401
Fax: (406) 449-5462
Montana Democratic Senator
email

Arlen Specter
Philadelphia
600 Arch Street
Suite 9400
Philadelphia , PA 19106
Main: 215-597-7200
Fax: 215-597-0406
Pennsylvania Democratic Senator
email

Olympia Snowe
U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe
Maine Republican Senator
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-5344
Toll Free in Maine: (800) 432-1599
Fax: (202) 224-1946
email

Mary Landreiu
Hale Boggs Federal Building
500 Poydras Street
Room 1005
New Orleans, LA 70130
Voice: (504) 589-2427
Fax:(504) 589-4023
Louisiana Democratic Senator
email

Susan Collins
Augusta State Office:
68 Sewall Street, Room 507
Augusta, ME 04330
Main: (207) 622-8414
Maine Republican Senator
email

Kay Hagan
310 New Bern Avenue
Raleigh, NC 27601
Phone: 919-856-4630
Fax: 919-856-4053
North Carolina Democratic Senator
email

Blanche Lincoln
912 West Fourth Street
Little Rock, AR 72201
(501) 375-2993
Fax (501) 375-7064
Toll Free 1-800-352-9364
Arkansas Democratic Senator
email

Tom Carper
300 South New Street
2215 Federal Building
Dover, DE 19904
Phone: (302) 674-3308
Fax: (302) 674-5464
Delaware Democratic Senator
email

Mark Warner
5309 Commonwealth Centre Parkway
Suite 401
Midlothian, VA 23112
Phone: 804-739-0247
Fax: 804-739-3478
Virginia Democratic Senator
email

Other Heavy-Hitters

Harry Reid
Las Vegas
Lloyd D. George Building
333 Las Vegas Boulevard
South, Suite 8016
Las Vegas, NV 89101
Phone: 702-388-5020
Fax: 702-388-5030
Nevada Senator, Senate Majority Leader (Democratic)
email

Nancy Pelosi
Office of the Speaker
H-232, US Capitol
Washington, DC 20515
(202) 225-0100
San Francisco Congresswoman, Speaker of the House (Democratic)
email

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3 Comments »

  1. Comment

    I felt like one critical issue was left untouched by your post.

    You well recounted, accurately, some of the economic benefits to a public options and the political need/support that exists for a public plan.

    Obviously, healthcare is an issue that is well-recognized in the public and our representatives. In my perception, I think the vast majority of Democrats recognize the vast mainstream appeal of a public option.

    However, the detail missing from you post is the same issue that I gather is troubling the policymakers. How do you set up a public health care option? Moreover, how feasible is it?

    I do not know the answers to those questions, but I can guess at some of the problems. Is the public provider going to be profit oriented? If so, how do you set those margins? If not, how do you handle the subsidy involved with providing those services? How do you set prices? If you price too far below the competing private insurance, people will flood the public option. Obviously, that’s one of the benefits here – it forces the private sector to be lean. But, you can see that this quickly gets into a delicate game.

    To me, it doesn’t seem like public health care is mainly a matter of political will or interest groups. Rather, the above questions have not been resolved in a practical plan of action.

    I could be wrong, perhaps there really is a good plan out there that I have not heard. If so, please let me know.

    Comment by sleepyreaderz — June 19, 2009 @ 4:43 am | Reply

  2. Adding a public option is the minimum acceptable amount of reform to expand access to healthcare.

    RIGHT ON MY BROTHA!

    “However, the detail missing from you post is the same issue that I gather is troubling the policymakers. How do you set up a public health care option? Moreover, how feasible is it?”

    Jeebus? We’ve sent Armies around the world to fight. We’ve sent men to the moon. We have invented just about everything…We can make a PUBLIC PLAN. Now America needs to face up to the fact that taxes need to be increased.

    Comment by bon_homme_dane — June 19, 2009 @ 7:13 am | Reply


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      I think an ideal public plan would be self-sustaining. Remember that insurance companies waste incredible amount of money on processing and accounting, while only 2% of medicaid dollars go to that. It is ironic that the “government beurocracy” spends so much less on clerical stuff han the private companies do.

      On top of that, there is no need to return a divident to stockholders or make sure underwriters profit when you have a public plan. All the money that was profit goes right back into paying for healthcare. Since you are supplied by the federal government, you can have a good year and a bad year without going bankrupt; the federal government can tolerate deficit and surplus cycles.

      So ideally what you have done is created a not-for-profit insurance company, that happens to be run by the federal government so as a user you are constitutionally protected from certain forms of discrimination. And over time it would accumulate more buyers than any single other insurance company – someday it may dominate the market, which I understand as being what Republicans and insurance companies are so afraid of – that they will be successfully out-competed.

      As it may happen, there may need to be additional dollars fed into the program in the beginning because more people of need will buy the insurance for a reduced rate than middle-class people. I don’t mind paying for that as a taxpayer, and if the public option takes up many of the responsibilities that medicaid and medicare currently cover (or even if it absorbs those programs), it may not cost the federal government much more than what it’s already paying.

      I think that the reason Republicans and insurance companies oppose a public is not that there is no way to envision it; it’s that the insurance companies don’t want to compete in a marketplace against another entity that doesn’t have the requirement of turning a profit to exist while they do. A business is generally expected to make as large of profits as possible and grow by 5-15 percent each year, while the government option has no such obligation. Those against the public option think the public option creates somewhat of an unfair market to compete against, and if private insurance companies could not compete, they may eventually go under – so what we’d have left is essentially single-payer (which, I assume, is what some liberal Democrats hope for).

      My counter argument is, they were the ones insisting that government could never do it right – and insurancce companies only go under if government actually does do it right. If that happens, clearly we were all better off with the public option. Its the government’s obligaion to pursue whatever works for the most people, not to prevent a factual disproving of free-market-is-always-best ideology. The healthcare system is so broken now that it would be hard to make it worse or more expensive – and it’s hard to make it better or cover more people without some kind of public option.

      A reason many health instiutions oppose the plan is that the government may create caps on what they’re willing to pay for certain procedures, and it would have more bargaining power that insurance companies who currenttly do the same thing. But I don’t think this is a worry either; increasing coverage means that more procedures, overall, are paid for, and costs per-procedure can go down.

      I think another reason why they oppose a public option is domino theory; if we do this, then what other industries will receive a government competitor, or what’s to stop the public option from gradually growing? It’s a silly argument, akin to saying we shouldn’t go to war with Afghanistan because then someday somebody might get the idea to go to war with India. You cannot stop yourself from doing the right thing just because it may lead to doing the wrong thing; you trust yourself to have restraint when you need restraint and to act when you need to act.

      Comment by ononehand — June 19, 2009 @ 7:33 am | Reply


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