No Public Option Is Not An Option
by Charles Lemos, Thu Sep 03, 2009 at 06:02:50 PM EDT
Representatives Lynn Woolsey and Raul Grijalva on behalf of the Progressive Caucus have sent the President a letter stating in rather unequivocal terms that any bill that does not provide a public option built on the Medicare provider system and with reimbursement based on Medicare rates is "unacceptable".
Here's the text of the letter in full:
Dear President Obama:
Thank you for continuing to work with Members of Congress to draft a health reform bill that will provide the real health care reform this country needs.
We look forward to meeting with you regarding retaining a robust public option in any final health reform bill and request that that meeting take place as soon as possible.
Public opinion polls continue to show that a majority of Americans want the choice of a robust public plan and we stand in solidarity with them. We continue to support the robust public option that was reported out of the Committees on Ways and Means and Education and Labor and will not vote for a weakened bill on the House Floor or returning from a Conference with the Senate.
Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, a public option built on the Medicare provider system and with reimbursement based on Medicare rates-not negotiated rates-is unacceptable. A plan with negotiated rates would ensure higher costs for the public plan, and would do nothing to achieve the goal of providing choice and competition to keep rates down. The public plan with set rates saves $75 billion, which could be lost if rates are negotiated with providers. Further, this public option must be available immediately and must not be contingent upon any trigger.
Mr. President, the need for reform is urgent. Every day, 14,000 Americans lose their health care coverage. We must have health care reform that will effectively bring down costs and significantly expand access. A health reform bill without a robust public option will not achieve the health reform this country so desperately needs. We cannot vote for anything less.
We look forward to meeting with you to discuss the importance of your support for a robust public plan, which we encourage you to reiterate in your address to the Joint Session of Congress on Wednesday.
The critical point is that "a health reform bill without a robust public option will not achieve the health reform this country so desperately needs." Anything less is passing the buck to a future Administration.
Only competition from a robust public option will rein in costs. Costs need to be reined in today, not down the line. A public plan will contain costs which are currently rising twice as fast as income thus eroding living standards, a public plan will toe the line on rising premiums which have surged 78% since 2001, and it will finally give Americans a choice of health plans - public and private. An analysis of the public option by the Campaign for America's Future concluded that offering "a new public insurance option to those who lack coverage would control healthcare costs and improve quality by providing an important benchmark for private insurance within a reformed healthcare framework." Universal coverage will reduce cost shifting by getting everybody covered and contain costs through investment in prevention, management of chronic care, twenty-first-century information technology, and research on and adoption of effective treatments.
Furthermore, only 60% of US employers offered health insurance to their employees as of 2007. That's down nine points since 2001. And increasingly, many employers are cutting the coverage they do provide leading to a rise of those who are underinsured. The problem of the underinsured is "the sleeping giant of the US health care crisis" because it can affect those who think they have adequate coverage until a healthcare emergency befalls them. Among adults aged 19 to 64, 25.2 million are "underinsured." The number of underinsured has increased 60% from 2003 to 2007. That compares with a 5.1% increase in the number of uninsured Americans - to about 47 million - over the same period, according to the US Census Bureau.
Low income earners have the fewest healthcare options, because the small firms they tend to work for are less likely to offer coverage. The high cost of premiums was cited as a main reason firms fail to provide healthcare coverage to their employees. The only way to extend coverage to this population is via a public option.
Moreover it is a moral outrage that some 18,000 Americans die annually for lack of health insurance coverage. We're a better country than this or so I'd like to believe.
If the final bill doesn't include a robust public option, then the Progressive Caucus in Congress should feel no obligation to support it. We're not looking for any bill. It must be the right bill and that means a robust public option.