As It Turns Out: Optional public insurance

Changes are afoot to reform health care. This is an incredibly complex topic with the medical marketplace being as huge as it is. There are no easy answers here, and I don’t pretend to have them. But I am trying to acquaint myself better with some of the possibilities.

There are two schools of thought on the American health care industry. Some think health care should be a right, the same as police and fire protection. Others feel it should remain in the free market, even though a good many people cannot benefit.

There are currently 47 million Americans without health insurance. According to Health and Human Services, 40 percent of those uninsured are low-income and only 6 percent are high-income. DHHS also indicates that the uninsured are more likely to end up in hospital emergency rooms, an incredibly costly service which is sometimes too late for the patient.

We spend twice as much on health care than any other country, but the World Health Organization ranks us only 37th in the world in getting the health care we pay for. Preventative care and primary care professionals have been disappearing. We’ve been heading in the wrong direction.

What we consumers need is more affordable health-care coverage that allows a choice of doctors and hospitals and guaranties high quality health care for everyone – and, yes, allows existing medical conditions. If this is what you’re already getting with your current private health insurance, you can relax: no changes are necessary with the public insurance options.

Why should the government be involved? For decades it has been left up to the health insurance industry to reign in their own pricing. That’s nearly impossible to do to yourself in a free market environment. The majority of Americans understand the government needs a more assertive role in trying to resolve the current dilemma.

President Obama believes one way we can try to relieve our burgeoning trillion-dollar deficit – while getting care to those who slip through the cracks – is by public insurance options. Since the government options would be non-profit and not needing to spend millions on advertising, it could sharpen competition. Premiums, deductibles and co-pays are currently not regulated, and so are as high as the market will bear. If private insurance companies must compete with a public option, it may be the only way they can keep their premiums and deductibles under check.

How can the government successfully reform all this? Some conservative thinkers feel that it’s not the government’s business, that this would be “socialized medicine.”

More moderate and liberal thinkers strongly disagree. “[W]e must end the private insurance company domination of health care in our country and move toward publicly funded, single- payer Medicare for All approach,” says Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“Our current private health insurance system is the most costly, wasteful, complicated and bureaucratic in the world. Its function is not to provide quality health care for all,” he said, “but to make huge profits for those who own the companies. With thousands of different health benefit programs designed to maximize profits, private health insurance companies spend an incredible (30 percent) of each health care dollar on administration and billing, exorbitant CEO compensation packages, advertising, lobbying and campaign contributions.” (“Health Care is a Right,”

To learn more, check out an important resource, “Health Care Reform: An Online Guide” at