Why the Public Option Is The Floor of Healthcare Coverage

Aug 20, 09 Why the Public Option Is The Floor of Healthcare Coverage
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The current healthcare debate has been mired in ridiculous charges and misinformation.  There are many reasons that this “national conversation” has degenerated into the Jerry Springer Show.  The Obama Administration chose not to formulate a healthcare plan.  Rather, they tasked various congressional committees with the job of formulating a healthcare plan with only the broadest guidelines.  Mr. Obama further undermined his own position by stating that everything was on the table.  As a result, the debate was hijacked by a calculated and well- funded disinformation campaign that capitalized off the multiple versions of the reform plan, and various ambiguities that have yet to be adequately explained.  Due to the Herculean efforts of many progressive bloggers and the MSNBC talking heads, Ed Schultz, Keith Olbermann, and Rachel Maddow, these lies have been actively debunked and the flood of insurance money behind the supposed grass roots campaigns has been fully documented.

One of the fundamental tenets of any healthcare reform plan is the public option.  Vague in the few incarnations of the plan, a basic premise is a government funded non-profit option that could effectively compete with the insurance companies.  Recently, progressives were in an uproar because the Mr. Obama distanced himself from a public option that he championed on the campaign trail last year.

Certain bloggers, such as Greg Saunders at the Huffington Post, believe that the insistence on a public option is overblown and counterproductive.  He insists that the current healthcare plans have enough significant reforms to outweigh the necessity of a public option.  However, Timothy Noah, who writes for Slate argues that without the public option the nation will not have meaningful healthcare coverage and reform will be a lost cause.  According to Noah, a for-profit healthcare system will inherently seek to undermine the consumers.

What underlies the vitriolic displays from the right, and the obstinate pushback from the left, is the idea of a single-payer system.  Contrary to popular ignorance, a single-payer system is not socialized medicine.  The government negotiates prices with private and public healthcare providers and pays for each citizen’s healthcare costs.  There is much variation in the single-payer system, but the basic misconceptions, the government owns the system and people do not have any choice, are complete falsehoods.

Our current healthcare system is based around profit.  Like any good gambler, insurance companies play the odds.  They make money from healthy people who pay a premium based upon the possibility that they may get sick.  As long as the individual remains healthy, insurance companies reap the benefits.  When the inevitable happens, they use every loophole to avoid paying on the insurance claim.  Thus, they profit.

The right and left both know that this fight is ultimately about whether America will ever have a single-payer system.  The right knows that without a public option they can forever tout these few reforms as an “overhaul” of the industry and permanently kill the idea of single-payer.  Most progressives understand that the public option is the only way to gain a toehold in the industry by introducing real competition.  The public option is the next step in this evolving process.  Without it, a sensible, responsible system that protects everyone will never be realized.

Insurance companies have too much money vested in the system, too much expendable income, and too much control over too many politicians for this to be an easy fight.  Those who understand what is at stake, the financial and physical health of our nation, must remain vigilant.

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