A few days ago, we reported on the unprecedented public support for a new insurance option that would be government-financed and run similarly to the Medicare program for elderly Americans. This option is being dubbed “the public plan.”
This New York Times/CBS Poll found that a whopping 72% of respondents were in favor of such a plan, compared to only 20% who were opposed.
So what’s the hold-up in getting this option passed?
Well first, legislators are still trying to figure out how to pay for healthcare reform. They recently learned that the most popular reform packages will cost anywhere from $1-$1.6 trillion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
But, interestingly enough, these analyses do not include the cost-savings that a public option could bring. The CBO has not yet calculated such savings simply because the public option is not currently included in any of the legislative packages on the table.
Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, is convinced that the public plan is the “cost-containment lynchpin” in healthcare reform.
He argues that without a public option, the other parties in our system- private insurers, doctors, hospitals, drug companies, and medical suppliers- have little or no incentive to supply high-quality care at a lower cost than they do now.
As We See It: The public plan will help those without insurance to obtain coverage- while also encouraging private insurers to trim their (unnecessary) administrative costs and exorbitant profits.
The second reason for the delay in getting this greatly needed and wanted insurance option through Congress is that several (conservative) Democrats refuse to sign on board.
These 9 or so Democrats claim that healthcare reform will never pass with 60 votes if the public option is included in the package. They say that they are unwilling to endorse reform legislation that does not have broad bipartisan support.
Click here for a breakdown of where each member of Congress stands on the public plan. This website lists many of the Democratic “no” votes as “don’t knows.”
Maybe naysaying Democrats really are committed to the idea of bipartisanship, and fear a voter backlash for pushing through a plan that lacks a single Republican signature. (But given the public support of the public plan, this isn’t really a legitimate argument).
The real issue is that many of these Democratic lawmakers receive large campaign contributions from insurers and other players in the healthcare industry.
- The average Senator received $37,267 in donations over the 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 campaign cycles.
- Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) received $141,250 over this time period. He is one of the loudest Democratic opponents to both a public option and to a single-payer insurance system.
- Click here for an excellent analysis of the impact that campaign contributions have on political decision-making, especially when it comes to healthcare.
Not surprisingly, insurers are dead-set against the public insurance option.
As Reich puts it, “It will squeeze their profits and force them to undertake major reforms.”
But the public plan won’t drive private insurers of business, as they often claim. Instead, they will have to become more competitive by offering better services at a lower price to retain and attract customers.
And aren’t such changes the point of healthcare reform?
Instead of sticking up for insurer interests, our Democratic Senators should be fighting on behalf of the American people. It’s time to remind these lawmakers just who it is that they work for.
Call your Senator today and voice your strong support for the public insurance option.
Here’s the number for the Capital Hill Switchboard: (202) 224-3121
Read our other posts on the public plan: