McConnell and Health Care: Strange Bedfellows

07/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gave remarks on the Senate floor on June 2 regarding health care reform. His office released his statement, "Health Care: Concept of a Government 'Option' is Misleading" ( After reading it, one would have to think about when someone in a crowded theater yells "fire"-- all the while remaining in a chair ready to watch the movie and snacking on a bag of popcorn. Let me explain.

With all due respect, Senator McConnell, you don't get it. Your "the sky is falling" approach in discussing a government run plan as a health care plan option for all Americans is mind-boggling. From the well of the Senate, you tell all that if health care reform includes such an option, we will lose what we have now as provided through the private sector, and in the end, what will be left is only a government-run plan. The private sector will no longer be able to compete. As you say in your published remarks, "According to a recent study, 119 million Americans would lose the private coverage they currently have as a consequence of a government plan." Let's back up Senator.

Presently, there are nearly 45-50 million uninsured Americans; add to this number those 1.0M+ who are underinsured and who are facing bankruptcy because they can't pay medical bills. These statistics keep on mounting, and with the state of the economy, they will only worsen. Even as you admit, with a government plan in place, tens of millions of Americans who currently enjoy their private coverage will be displaced, with eventually only wealthy Americans being able to continue on with their private plans. Isn't that what is going on today without there being in place a public option? But once more Senator, what happens to the present millions of Americans who don't have, or can't afford, health care coverage? Why don't you say how the private market will pay for those folks? You can't, because you know the private market will not support such contributions, i.e., taking from profit margins to help out with what should be a right (health care) for all Americans is not the corporate thing to do, huh?

Senator, you also said on the Senate floor that with a government plan, "at some point private plans would be crowded out altogether". I didn't know that giving Americans an option inclusive of a public plan would drive out private plans - - - unless, of course, those (private) plans were not as cost effective, were not as affordable, did not provide as much freedom of choice, weren't efficient enough, and failed to continue providing quality of care (points you said on the floor as well that should be in any health care plan). Yet, isn't competition the sine qua non of the American way of doing business? If the private sector can really still provide what all Americans can access and afford, why should this segment of the market be afraid of another competitor . . . called the U.S. government. If the private sector is so great, maybe a public plan will fall flat on its face.

Senator, besides Medicare (and state run Medicaid programs), why haven't you declared to your colleagues in the Senate that the private sector has been running the present health care system for decades. And during that time, millions of Americans have lost health care and coverage nor can pay for it. Why didn't you also say that managed health care came into existence because the (private) fee for service system wasn't cutting it either. And yet even with this reality you have the audacity to say, as you did on the floor of the Senate too, that with government care as the only option, "That's when the delays and denied care would kick in. Under a government run system, Americans would have no choice but to accept all the bureaucratic hassles, and the endless time spent on hold waiting for a government service representative to take their calls." This "sky is falling" mentality is fear mongering at its worst.

In the end, let all Americans decide what they want by giving us as many options as feasible from which to select - - - and that includes a public option. Or, perhaps, let us all have a base level of coverage funded with public dollars above which the private market can provide additional layers funded by each of us or with participation from our employers.

As with any contentious issue, the solution lies in the middle. With health care reform, the solution involves participation by both the private sector and the government with a public option; one is not mutually exclusive of the other. However, one thing is certain, Senator: you and health care reform as you spoke about it on June 2 make strange bedfellows indeed.