Saturday, August 22, 2009

Public Option, Three Views

Republicans and conservatives opposing a public plan in a health care plan typiclly argue that the option would interfere with the private insurance industry, destroying their viability, and eventually run them out of business. Which apparently is supposed to be a bad thing. The Roanoke Times reports in a town hall meeting in Virginia on August 18, a Democrat, U.S. Representative Rick Boucher, made the argument more explicitly, contending

I have a problem with this government option plan. I'm troubled that the government option plan could become very popular and if it became sufficiently popular it could begin to crowd out the other (private insurance companies).

There you have it. A public health care option would be wrong for America because the American people would like it, and choose it in preference to private insurance.

In contrast, Senator Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), a supporter of single-payer, understands the trouble a health care reform bill lacking a public option would bring. In a brief video (below) produced by Brave New Studios, he responds to a question about a public option by describing the Senate Finance Committee bill, in which the federal government would be

subsidizing the private insurance companies which are giving low and moderate income consumers coverage but there would be no cost containment element.... Without the competition of a public option the private insurance companies could raise their rates 5% one year, 7% the next year, and they would not be forced to compete with a more efficient operation which might only go up 1% or 2% and without a public option I feel very much that the costs of health care, which today are enormous, would simply go through the roof.

The danger for small business inherent in mandating insurance without a public option was highlighted in a meeting held on August 18 by Senate Finance Committee Olympia Snow (R.-Me.) with business representatives and lobbyists from Maine. Sam Stein of The Huffington Post explains

Small business representatives told Snowe that they were opposed to any mandates that came without a public option and that such an alternative was desperately needed for small business, which can't afford the rising cost of health insurance for their employees. The costs make them unable to compete on a level playing field with bigger companies, which can use their size to leverage lower prices. Lobbyists representing larger corporations took the opposite position.

The opposition of conservatives to a public option also stands in contrast to the interests of small business, generally a Republican constituency. Here, the GOP can conveniently march in lockstep with big business while maintaining resistance to government as the GOP's raison d'etre. A pretty good two-fer.

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