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Miles J. Zaremski Headshot

A Right to Health Care Is a Public Option

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On the eve of the Senate Finance Committee passing a bill without a public option (excuse me Senator Cantwell (D-WA), but your amendment which passed by one vote is not a public option), one wonders whether or not health care is a right for all Americans, or if health care just a commodity in which the "haves" (those fat cat insurance company types) will grow richer at the expense of every single American. The "Baucus Bill" mandates coverage for every American--that means insurance companies will have millions more insureds and that means lots more bucks. This legislative effort also limits those who can be subsidized if they cannot afford coverage, provides penalties through the IRS for those who don't get insurance, and, most outlandish of all, allows insurance companies to charge what they want, when they want, for premiums because there is no effective competitive force that will require them to lower premiums and costs. Baucus keeps saying all he wants is a bill that can go to the floor of the Senate for vote. He is doing everything to meet that goal now and surely he will get his wish--but we know sometimes what we wish for is not, in the end, what we want.

So, the "game" shifts to the Senate floor once this bill comes out of the Senate Finance Committee. When that occurs, there will be four bills with a public option, and the Baucus Bill with Senator Cantwell's amendment to let the states set premium rates for insurance companies. But as Yogi Berra has famously said, "it ain't over 'till its over." It's not over "'til the fat lady sings." It has even been suggested that what we have is a "tortoise and the hare" race going on, but with President Obama being not the hare, but the slow one . . . and we all know how that story turned out. It is going to be up to Obama to breathe life into the public option and carry it over the final finish line.

Rep. Grayson (D-FL) had it right, and was courageous enough to say what he said in the well of the House the other day. Republicans don't want health care reform. And when he articulated his words, they whined like, well, you know what--knowing what they have been spewing forth was thrown right back into their faces by someone not telling lies, but telling the truth. Without health care reform, our legislators are allowing thousands of Americans to die daily. Those who perish or who suffer from disease or illness do so because they cannot afford health care insurance and the health care services that can be bought with such coverage. Insurance coverage enables health care; it is that simple. The public option is the only true savior for these millions of Americans and for those of us with insurance who are paying way too much for it.

The other day, my college friend Andy Kurz, a former successful insurance executive with a noted health insurance company who is also from the Chicagoland area, sent me information which all the readers of this post should be aware and then with which to corner their legislators. I know Andy will excuse me for reprinting his communication to me, so here goes.

Consider the following proposal: the government would manage this federal insurance program; it would be introduced and sponsored by Democrats; the insurance would be mandatory for some Americans and optional for other Americans; the insurance would be sold at below cost; the insurance would have no pre-existing exclusions; and the government would subsidize the program with billions of taxpayers dollars. As Andy said, sounds like the public option, right? WRONG. Actually, this is H.R. 3121 (110th Cong.)--the Commission on National Catastrophe Risk Management and Insurance Act of 2008. This legislation, a federal flood insurance program, passed the Senate in May 2008 and became law this year. Being a federal program that was sponsored by the Democrats, one would think Republicans would not want to have anything to do with it, correct? Wrong again. Forty-four Republicans voted in favor of this (socialist?) effort; two opposed it. Kinda wonder when Republicans speak of a public option for health care as bringing socialism to our shores what they were thinking about when they voted for a similarly structured program to protect homeowners whose property is destroyed by flood waters. Could it be that there are socialist programs (Medicare? SCHP? VA health care?) and then there are socialist programs--like this flood protection bill?

The public option for health care is far from death's door. But it is our job to convince Democrats, and that is all of them, that the sine qua non of health care as a right for every single American is the public option. Anything less is not even worthy of passage. And if President Obama thinks otherwise, he not only will get a very bad bill none of us can afford, but his party can consider 2010 and 2012 as the years the Democrats lost control of both Houses of Congress and then the White House.

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