Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Senate: Getting to the Public Option

It is important that health reform continue to move forward through the Senate. The most recent announcement offers some elements that sound attractive. As a whole, though, the package seems to leave a lot of gaping holes, that the Senators will need to address, or that will be resolved in conference.

What the proposal is, as far as we can tell:

Opening up something like the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP) to the public, through the Office of Personnel Management.
Offering some or all people age 55-64 the chance to buy in to Medicare.
A trigger to create a public option in the future.

Progressives need 3 things:

1. An expanded role for the public sector, in order to effectively control the charges by health care providers: drug companies, hospitals, medical supply companies, hospitals. Doctors too. Private insurance companies have no stake in controlling prices and are often too weak to bargain successfully with organized providers.

2. To the extent there will continue to be private for-profit insurance companies in the mix, they need to be strictly regulated, so that the uninsured will have a fair shake at getting covered, and the insured and underinsured have a fair shake at getting our claims paid.

3. Subsidies to make insurance affordable, and to put some pressure on the government as prices rise.

Increasing enrollment in Medicare for seniors, while expanding coverage for middle age/middle income people, would be a great step forward.

But marginally opening up Medicare selectively to a subset of seniors does not accomplish these objectives. It likely will not increase significantly the number of beneficiaries; and they will be the most expensive to treat.

FEHBP has the same inflationary insurance spiral as any other set of private insurance plans. It does function somewhat like the proposed health insurance exchanges. It is not a public option. A trigger needs to be pulled now.

The Illinois Campaign for Better Health Care proposes this:

"It is NOT an either or - we demand a strong public option, strong insurance reforms, and expanding access to Medicare to all individuals 55 and older. Better yet, let everyone join Medicare."

Call your U.S. Member of Congress at 1-888-801-4426. Tell them:
For Democratic reps: "Stay firm on the public option plan on which you have already voted yes and on expanding Medicare eligibility."

For Republican reps: "Quit playing politics with my and my family's life. Support the American people and support health care reform."

What do you think?

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