No public option is not an option

by Jim Longworth

No public option is not an option

Last week PACE Airlines owner William Rogers was arrested for allegedly failing to pay Blue Cross Blue Shield for his employees’ group health insurance.

According to charges filed, Rogers knowingly terminated the policies without giving a mandated notice (45 days) to the 337 affected workers.

This sad story simply accentuates just how flawed our healthcare system is.

By and large, as working individuals we are solely dependent upon our employers and one insurance giant for our medical coverage. If we lose that job, we lose our coverage. We then must hope that we land new jobs quickly so we can purchase new policies. But we also must hope that we won’t be denied new policies due to pre-existing conditions. If all goes well, we then have to make enough money at our new jobs to be able to afford the new premiums. Then all we have to do is avoid a serious illness which would result in termination of our new coverage.

No wonder over 70 percent of Americans favor some kind of healthcare reform. Yet most do not favor a public option. The two beliefs are irreconcilable. That’s because a public option is the only mechanism by which companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield will offer lower premiums with better and continuous coverage. I’ll bet that every one of those 337 PACE workers now favor a public option, but the problem is, most of us don’t understand the need until we ourselves are in crisis. A public option is just what the name states. It is an “option”, and one that would have either prevented or lessened the financial hardships of the PACE people.

Unfortunately, Congress is not likely to pass a healthcare reform bill that includes a public option. In fact, the latest compromise bill (the Baucus Bill) is so watered down that we would actually be better off with no reform at all. Cigna whistleblower Wendall Potter says that the bill was essentially written by healthcare lobbyists, and warns, “The bill will guarantee that more Americans will go bankrupt because of the continued cost shifting that will occur.”

Yes, the Baucus Bill will prevent insurance companies from dropping you if you get sick. And it won’t allow them to deny coverage due to pre-existing conditions. But those are hollow concessions for two reasons: First, as was alluded to earlier, there are no provisions in the bill for capping premiums, so insurance companies would be able to charge as much as they want. The second problem was best described by CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin who observed, “Under the watered-down reform bill, everyone will be required to buy medical insurance, and if you can’t, then thegovernment will subsidize it for you, which means the bill guarantees40 million new customers for the health insurance industry which we,the middle class, will pay for.”

Onlya handful of intelligent, compassionate lawmakers understand theimplications of this shell game. One of them is Sen. Jay Rockefeller(D-WV) who says he’d rather have no reform than to vote for the Baucusbill. And that’s okay with the insurance guys, who win either way. It’san outcome that lobbyists have ensured by spending over $1.4 millionper day to defeat true healthcare reform in general, and a publicoption in particular.

Likelythen, nothing will change, and victims of our flawed system will keeppiling up like so much garbage. Sevenhundred thousand people will gobankrupt this year because of a medical problem. Forty-five thousandwill die because they had no insurance. Meanwhile, the health insuranceindustry will keep turning record profits, which have risen by 428percent since 2000. According to the latest Kaiser Foundation report,insurance companies have raised premiums by a rate of 131 percent whilethose of us lucky enough to have a job have seen our wages rise by only38 percent.

Still,the loud-mouthed right-wing commentators and politicians continue tofrighten and misinform the gullible masses, saying that healthcarereform will lead to socialism, death panels and a loss of our freedoms(not true on all counts).

They also warn that a public option would put private companies out of business.

Butas Toobin points out, “Penn State and Ohio State did not drive Harvardout of business, and the United States Postal Service hasn’t driven FedEx or UPS out of business.” The right-wing arguments may not hold up,but by pressing them on the air and in angry town hall meetings, theyhave successfully held up meaningful reform which most Americans saythey want.

ComedianBill Maher accurately observes that, “We are the only nation on earththat profits from being sick.” We all need to recognize that phenomenaand act accordingly. Healthcare reform without a public option is notreform. It’s just a sick joke that we can ill afford.

JimLongworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m.on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cablechannel 15).