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Let’s Not Mourn the Death of the Public Option

The health insurance public option might be fizzling. The left is OK with that., NBC News, June 5, 2021, By Benjy Sarlin and Sahil Kapur

“A decade later, Joe Biden campaigned on making the public option a reality, but so far, he’s done little to get Congress to enact one. Instead of outrage, influential progressives seem to be OK watching the promise go unfilled, preferring to pursue universal health care through other means, like expanding Medicare eligibility.

Elected officials, health care activists and experts who spoke to NBC News said the issue has fallen off the national radar and will be difficult to revive without a major push by the White House.

Responding to the pandemic has consumed much of Biden’s attention in his first months in office. And beyond that, he has a long list of agenda items to get to first, including many that are popular with progressives.

“I don’t think there’s a dynamic where we see it at the center of a political fight again,” said Alex Lawson, the executive director of the left-leaning group Social Security Works.”

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Comment by Eagan Kemp

No one should mourn the end of a push for a public option in health care. It was never the solution the country needed for health reform. 

The risks inherent in a public option completely overwhelm any potential gains. Given the rapid rise in for-profit companies gaming Medicare through Medicare Advantage, there is no reason to believe that a public option would be any different when it comes to insurers dumping patients with high health needs, while retaining patients that are profitable. If the for-profit insurers can cherry-pick healthier Americans through seemingly more favorable plans (while they are healthy), then the public option could become overly burdened and unsustainable. 

In addition, a public option would have just been one more area of added complexity in our already fragmented health care system, which already struggled to respond to the COVID-19 crisis

A public option would also further entrench the power of for-profit insurers. And the massive administrative waste of private insurance companies would continue under a public option, whereas under Medicare for All the reduction in administrative savings would be more than $500 billion a year

In terms of political feasibility, there is the perception that less comprehensive reforms could have an easier chance of passing. However, the companies that profit off our healthcare system have shown they are just as opposed to the most basic public option proposal as they are to Medicare for All. Both the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future and Coalition Against Socialized Medicine—which strongly oppose Medicare for All as well as a public option —have shown they will not compromise on behalf of their corporate backers. 

While proponents of a public option may try to make their proposal sound “reasonable,” it wouldn’t come close to matching Medicare for All. Whether it is savings for families, savings for the country or ensuring that everyone in the country has guaranteed access to medically necessary care, only Medicare for All would create the health care system we need.

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