Heath Care Reform: The Public Option

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I don’t pretend to understand the health care debate, but I know what concerns me the most: the fact that so many people are intent on protecting private insurers. I don’t think they have done anything to earn that loyalty. Even the best of them have repeatedly raised premiums, copays and deductibles, often by astounding percentages and at a dizzying rate.

What too few people consider is that unless this is remedied, health insurance and care will eventually be too expensive for all but the wealthy. The rest of us, when we do receive health care, will be left with crippling medical debts, relegating us even further to the “have-nots” in this country.

In a country that loves its capitalism, it amazes me that we are not willing to let health insurance companies battle it out in the free market. One criticism of adding a public option is that it would drive private insurers out of business. I say if the public option is better than the private option, more power to it. And if it’s not better, then the private insurers should be able to compete by providing better care at a reasonable cost.

Everyone is being required to tighten their belts economically these days. If private insurers were forced to cut costs in order to be affordable, they would find ways to do it. Perhaps one way would be to pay less to shareholders. Why should the shareholders be treated better than the premium payers? I know, all public businesses rely on shareholders to fund their companies. But the average business knows that it can’t afford to alienate its shareholders by out-of-control spending and runaway costs.

The last I heard, the President is backing off somewhat from the public option. I say that’s a shame. The way I see it, the two biggest objections to the public option are: how to pay for it and the fear of big government. The thing is, if private insurers are forced to compete with the public option, costs will go down for everyone.

The public option is not called an “option” for nothing. No one will be required to choose it. If you’re satisfied with your private insurance, you can keep it. But you’re more likely to be happy with your private insurance if it has had to compete with the public option.

One aspect of the public option that I hear too little about is that the main reason it has been proposed is because so many people don’t have insurance,  either because they can’t afford it or because the companies they work for don’t provide it.  I understand why businesses would rather not have to provide health insurance: it’s usually even more expensive for them than it is for their employees. A public option would take that burden from their shoulders.  So why aren’t they behind this aspect of health care reform?

Certainly the money to pay for the public option would have to come from somewhere. The most likely solution is through raised taxes. Of course no one wants to hear that. But what people don’t realize is that they will pay for public health care anyway, through higher medical bills from their providers, bills which are jacked up as a way to compensate for those who don’t have health insurance.

Lately there has been a lot of rhetoric being thrown around about Obama’s vision for health care reform being socialistic. I worry more about a future where medical providers will flat-out refuse to treat the uninsured. Wait, what am I talking about? That future is already here in some situations. But I’m talking about a total shut-out from the system. What are we going to do, just let people die?

It is imperative that everyone in this society has access to health care. The question is, how expensive is it going to be, both for the insured and for the uninsured?  It seems to me that the time when we need “big” government is when all the “little” governments disagree. When health care coverage varies so much from state to state and insurer to insurer, we are hardly living in a society where we are all equal.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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