Felcia Muftic – Dear Mr. President, stick to your guns on health care reform
July 12, 2009
An open letter to President Obama:
Dear Mr. President: I am deeply concerned that you are in danger of losing your health care reform legislation because of vigorous lobbying of Congress by private for-profit health insurers.
The Washington Post, July 6, reports insurance lobbyists, hospitals, and medical groups are spending $1.4 million a day and have hired 350 former congressional and government staffers to defeat the public option to health care reform plans in Congress. According to a June NBC/Wall Street Journal poll the American public overwhelmingly favors a choice of private market insurance or a government-run option. About 76 percent of respondents said it was either “extremely” or “quite” important to “give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance.” Consumers get the message: they want to have a choice cheaper than their private plans. They have placed that goal in your lap.
Mr. President, it is time for you personally to fight for the public option as a bottom line. It is not enough just to let Congress, so vulnerable to lobbyists, come up with half-baked reform. There is already much bi-partisan agreement in Congress about how the cost of providing health care itself can be reduced .The lower the cost of care, the lower the cost to taxpayers or the impact on the national debt of a public option plan and greater the relief to Medicare and Medicaid costs. Many provider associations have already agreed to lower their costs voluntarily and some of these agreements will be formalized in legislation. Likewise, most acknowledge that those who do not have access to affordable health insurance must get it. Most seem to agree consumer choice of doctor and hospital is essential. These agreements are only part of the equation.
The other half is reforming health insurance. At issue is whether a public option should be offered or whether private insurers should be the sole providers. Your proposed public option is a health plan, similar to Medicare, funded by the government that would be offered as an alternative choice to private insurance. Your reasons: 1) to give consumers a cheaper choice and 2) to force private insurers to lower their costs by making them compete. Stick to your guns. These reasons make sense. Insurance industries’ own figures show that administrative expenses of sales commissions, profits, lobbying, and high executive compensation account for 12 percent more in cost than our government Medicare administration costs. It is a matter of keeping private insurers’ administrative costs down by making them compete with a public option or continuing to stick these costs to taxpayers and consumers.
Cost of providing a public option and its impact on the national debt fuel Republicans’ opposition. They are being pound foolish. The United States spends twice as much per person on health care than other industrialized nations with national health. It seems logical that money can be found to lower costs while providing affordable access to health insurance for all if we are willing to shuffle some deck chairs on the boat. In fact, two thirds of the costs of providing a public option can be funded by changes to Medicare and Medicaid. The rest is a matter of combining reductions in provider care costs, keeping the participating private options as cheap as possible by making them compete with a public option, raising taxes on some, and limiting subsidized insurance to families making less than $110,000 per year. And yes, the public knows there is no free lunch.
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Per a mid-June New York Times/CBS poll, 57 percent were willing to pay higher taxes “so that all Americans have health insurance they cannot lose.” Private insurers counter they could not compete, leaving consumers with only the public option. That has not happened in the major industrialized countries with national health. Besides, your proposed “exchange” system includes participation by both private insurers and a public option, securing a place for the private insurers in the program. Also, major employers have signed on to providing health insurance already, which also carves out a continuing market for private insurers. Rumor has it there is a compromise brewing in Congress which would delay implementation for years. This “trigger” proposal would give insurance lobbyists even more time to kill the public option, and make it vulnerable to future watering down by a less favorable Congress after the 2010 mid-term elections.
People are hurting and want a solution now. Pulling that trigger could politically backfire on you. A better compromise would be for the public option to be administered and controlled by co-ops with their governing bodies voted in by their users. The co-op compromise at least yanks the rug out from under the “government control” scare arguments used by insurance lobbyists to win over some votes.
– To read more commentary by Felicia Muftic, visit her blog at http://www.skyhidailynews.com (featured topic: Ted Muftic’s advice to the President on the economy) or visit her Web site, http://www.mufticforum.com
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