Feature

Health reform: Pressing the ‘public option’

Including a "public option" in the health-care legislation President Obama is shepherding through Congress means any government-run insurance plan would compete with private insurers, possibly to the detriment of private health care.&lt

To understand the ongoing health-care debate in Washington, you need to know just one thing, said Ezra Klein in Washingtonpost.com. If the legislation President Obama is trying to shepherd through Congress by fall includes a so-called public option, then “liberals have won. If it’s eliminated, or neutered, then conservatives have triumphed.” The public option would be a government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers—a kind of Medicare for people under age 65. Consumers who lack insurance, or dislike their private plan, could choose the public option, which would use the leverage provided by tens of millions of members to “bargain down the prices of services, much as Medicare does.” By providing a less expensive alternative to private insurers, a strong public plan would save all consumers 20 percent to 30 percent on insurance costs. Which is why the insurance industry is desperate to stop it, said Paul Krugman in The New York Times. So let me offer Congress, and the American people, five words of advice: “Don’t trust the insurance industry.” It’s the Obama health-care plan that people shouldn’t trust, said Michael O. Leavitt and Jeffrey H. Anderson in The Washington Times. The public “option’’ is but a “Trojan horse.” Once a government-run system is established, private employers will leap at the chance to stop insuring their workers, and tens of millions of Americans will be herded, like sheep, into the public plan. Private insurers would go bankrupt. The government-run plan would quickly evolve into the only option—a vast, socialistic bureaucracy that would cut costs by denying expensive drugs, tests, and medical procedures to people it deems unworthy of them. In other words, it would engage in “rationing.” Is that the health-care “reform” Americans want? 

Spending has to be reined in somehow, said The Economist in an editorial. Health care will consume about 18 percent of gross domestic product this year, and, if nothing is done, will soar to more than one-third of GDP by 2040. Republicans and Democrats have very different ideas about how to cut those costs, said David Broder in The Washington Post. GOP senators said this week they’d fight Obama’s public option to their last breath, while Obama and liberal Democrats say they’ll insist on it. It’s going to be the biggest political battle of Obama’s presidency, and “no one can tell you with any certainty” what kind of health-care system will emerge when it’s over.

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