I feel like I have written this article before (as has my co-contributor), and yet I can't help but return to the health care debate. Howard Dean was on TV recently and he said that if health care reform does not include a public option, then it would be basically worthless. As I watch our President say that there is no line in the sand in the health care debate, I again wonder aloud what exactly the goal of this administration is on this topic.
The arguments against a public option have basically been boiled down to two positions that are inconsistent with each other and are yet voiced simultaneously. The first position, which is favored by the insurance providers and their lackeys in Congress, is that, they (the insurance companies) would be driven out of business by a government option. The claim is that so many people would chose the public option (because it would be cheaper, better and less cumbersome) that the insurance providers would not be able to stay in business. The President called this point into question yesterday when he said:
" The notion that all these insurance companies who say they’re giving consumers the best possible deal, if they can’t compete against a public plan as one option, with consumers making the decision what’s the best deal, that defies logic..."
The Insurance companies and the members of Congress that they own, will continue to claim that the government option would drive them out of business without stating the real reason why that is the case. As has been stated here before, the companies are in the business of making money. They are not in the business of providing Americans with the best health care possible, therefore it only makes sense that they would not be able to compete with a system that makes the actual health of Americans the top priority. A significant portion of the resources of the insurance companies goes to trying to find ways to deny claims of the people that they currently insure. How could they possibly compete against a competitor who doesn't spend a large portion of their income on trying to screw their own customers? Republicans are constantly arguing for a free marketplace. Why would they now be afraid of a little competition? If, as the insurance companies and the many well compensated spokespeople in Congress claim, we do in fact have the best health care in the world, then having a public option would provide very little competition indeed. Why on earth would people give up their current coverage if they felt like it was the best plan available?
The second claim is that the public option would lead to American getting less medical care than they are now receiving. "We don't want to be like Canada" becomes the clarion call of this particular group of sycophants. So this argument claims (in total opposition to the other one) that under a public plan, the health of Americans would actually suffer. They talk about health care being rationed and long waits for transplants and lack of money for new equipment and fewer doctors being available and government bureaucrats making your health decisions. All of this presupposes that our current options are fantastic and that we are thrilled about insurance company paper pushers making our health care decisions. My question is, which is it? Is the public option going to be so great that it breaks the backs of the insurance providers or is it going be the beginning of the end? I guess it's too much to ask the opponents of the plan for a consistent message.
And if all else fails, they point to the money. How on earth can we pay for this? $1.6 trillion!!!! Inconceivable! Pointing to the money is of course the easiest way to take attention away from the human cost of not getting real health care reform done in the near future. No one talks about the 50 million who are uninsured. No one talks about the tens of thousands who die each needlessly because they could not afford to seek medical attention. No one talks about the millions who are saddled with crippling debt for medical procedures even though they were "covered" by private insurance. No one talks about the fact that our some of our major industries are now big health providers who also happen to manufacture something. No one talks about the fact that in ten years the only growth industries left in the this country will be tied to health care and the insurance companies. No, they don't want to talk about that. Let's just talk about the cost. That will scare Americans into demanding that nothing gets done. I have a simple plan for this. Like the Iraq war (which is going to cost upwards of $2 trillion), let's just claim the same opening figure that the Bush administration did for that endeavor. The cost for complete health care reform that will cover every American is $60 billion.