03/23/2009 07:51 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fearmongering and Health Reform: The Public Insurance Option

Not too long ago, Americans were told to support a war based on the threat of weapons of mass destruction. We later learned that the truth was far different than what we were led to believe. And now, we continue to suffer the consequences of a decision based on fear and a distortion of the truth. Fearmongering, we learned, can a dangerously effective political tool.

Like many of us, I've been following the news about health reform efforts in recent weeks and have been hearing something disturbingly familiar.

Take the proposal to offer Americans a public insurance option, for instance. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, some pundits, politicians and special interests are telling Americans that having the choice of a public health insurance option will threaten the doctor-patient relationship and lead to poor health. We're asked to ignore the facts and somehow believe that we will suffer when the guarantee of health coverage exists for all Americans.

And then there are some who wish to scare Americans about 'comparative effectiveness research'. We're told that helping doctors to learn and use the best available evidence will somehow hurt, not help, patients.

We've heard this song before. Distort the truth, stoke people's fears and prevent sensible conversation about facts and solutions. It's not too hard to understand why fearmongering is deployed as a tactic. The folks who peddle fear are usually scared themselves. They're scared to lose power, profits, and influence.

But they need not be afraid. For the public insurance option, for instance, research suggests that a public plan would foster effective competition, innovation, and market stability for high-quality private insurers while saving money and raising the standard of care. In fact, the only ones that should be afraid are poor-quality, bloated private insurers. Plus, as the Urban Institute points out, unlike private insurers, a public plan would have the "power of a larger purchaser motivated to contain costs and control rising health care expenditures."

Earlier this week, private health insurance companies sent a letter to President Obama advising against a public health program. Are we ready to take advice on how to fix the health care system from those who profit the most when it's broken?

While the fearmongers of health care reform revive stale jingles like "socialized medicine," more and more patients and their doctors, like those in the National Physicians Alliance and the Health Care for America Now coalition, are setting the record straight. In fact, it's worth noting that tens of thousands of doctors support the public insurance option, despite media analyses that imply that "doctors" are a monolithic group opposed to the idea of a public plan.

I'm a primary care doctor. Like many of my colleagues across the nation, I know that the choice of a public health insurance option will lead to better health for our patients. That's what worries special interests that profit in our broken health care system.

The fact is:
• The choice of a public health insurance plan is essential to controlling costs.
• This choice is incredibly popular - 73% overall; 77% Democrats; 79% independents; 63% Republicans support a public insurance option.
• Contrary to the spin from health reform opponents, voters do not believe that a public program will have unfair advantages over private insurance.
• Private insurance will continue to be an option for those who wish to stay with their current insurance.

We've already learned that fearmongering can be a dangerously effective way to push through an agenda. Now, as the health reform debate starts to heat up and old fear-based tactics are revived, let's commit to talking about facts and sensible solutions. Let's remember not to get fooled again.