Public Option Key To Reform

Courier-Post — Sunday, September 27, 2009

For the Courier-Post

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it" — a shrewd observation by a wise and insightful Upton Sinclair.

In his Aug. 25 op-ed in the Courier-Post ("Make our health care system better"), Bill Marino, president and CEO of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the state's largest health insurer, asserts that Horizon and the rest of the insurance industry support the "basic principles" of health reform promoted by President Barack Obama and embodied in the House health care bill (HR 3200), just not the public health insurance plan.

Marino states, "Our industry's opposition to this one flawed proposal (the public plan) does not mean we oppose health care reform." Sure, it just means that Marino and other insurance industry executives who share his view, oppose real health reform — reform that changes the status quo. As long as they can keep making outrageous profits at the expense of consumers, everything is just fine.

The public health insurance plan is essential to meaningful reform. The public option is the only way to control costs and force real competition in the health insurance industry. Here's why:

First, while private insurance companies can close, merge or leave the state, a public health insurance plan would always be there for us, just like Medicare is always there for the elderly and for people with disabilities.

Second, a public health insurance plan would be accountable to us and would help keep private insurance companies accountable.

Safety net

Third, a public health insurance plan would offer us a safety net in case we lose our jobs. Half of all bankruptcies in the United States are caused by medical bills. A public plan would not only cover people who are unemployed, but would help address the skyrocketing foreclosure rate in this country.

Fourth, a public health insurance plan would be operated more efficiently than current private sector plans.

Fortunately, Marino and others who are trying to convince the public that a public plan will lead to a government takeover of health care are not succeeding. A recent poll found that nearly three out of every four voters want the choice of a public health insurance plan, often because of the reasons noted above. They want the choice between keeping their private insurance or opting for the public plan.

Now is the time to pass real health care reform — reform that includes a public health insurance option. There is a groundswell of grass-roots organizing taking place across the country and right here in New Jersey to show members of Congress that we want real reform and we want it now.

The closer we get, the tougher it gets. After all, presidents, members of Congress and health care advocates have been working on various versions of health care reform for 90 years now. This time, we have to stick together. We have to get it done. And we have to stand up to people such as Marino, whose salary depends on him not understanding.

Eve Weissman is the health care campaign coordinator for New Jersey Citizen Action, an independent citizen watchdog coalition based in Highland Park.

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