Asbury Park Press

Insurance Companies Not Interested In Health Care Reform

Asbury Park Press — Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Letters to the Editor

By DREW HARRIS

The comments made by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey CEO and President William Marino about national health care reform and the creation of a public health insurance plan are not surprising. ("Insurance exec decries healthcare reform plans," July 20.) When nearly one of every two people with health insurance in the state has Horizon's logo on their ID card, you would expect him to work hard to keep the competition out.

Small business owners and individuals searching for health coverage know firsthand how uncompetitive the state's insurance market is. Our choices are limited to a small number of huge companies offering increasingly expensive and confusing plans, full of "gotchas" and corporate escape clauses. It seems the only thing rising faster than premiums is what we pay out of pocket for needed health care.

We've been talking about health insurance reform for generations. Every time we get close to a solution, the insurance industry trots out "Harry and Louise" or "socialized medicine" or "government-run health care" or some other bogeyman designed to scare us into rejecting proposed changes while the industry promises to finally fix the problem.

This time, we won't get fooled again. Everyone knows the problem is getting worse. More than 1.3 million New Jerseyans lack any health coverage and many more live in fear that they're a pink slip away from loss of coverage, denial of care and medical bankruptcy.

Polls show that more than 70 percent of the people want the government to offer an optional public plan to compete with private plans in the market. The key word is "optional" — as in "you don't have to buy it if you don't want to." Of course, if it's cheaper and provides better coverage, you'd probably go for it. On the other hand, if Horizon or any other company can offer something better at a lower price, then the increased competition will have worked its magic and people will choose them.

This is as American as Medicare, the four-decade-old government-run health plan for the elderly. Medicare was created because retired and disabled people couldn't afford private health insurance. The market had failed them. No senior is forced to sign up for Medicare. But they're no fools; they know a good deal when they see one and virtually every person over 65 has signed on.

The question for the rest of us is whether we will let health insurance company executives like Marino scare us into limiting our choice of plans, or will we take the better deal and the increased competition that comes with a strong public health insurance option?

Drew Harris, of Westfield, is a member of the Horizon Watch Coalition.

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