Public option - Fair or foul (public enemy or rescuer)

The Senate is in the process of duking it out over a healthcare plan, and one of the biggest pieces they're debating is the so-called "public option."  The fate of some type of healthcare legislation agreement may ultimately rest on the public option.

What is the public option?

The public option is basically a government run health insurance company. It will not replace the existing private companies, it will work alongside of them, providing another option for health insurance consumers.

Ideally it will provide some benefit to us, the healthcare insurance consumer, by functioning as a competitor to the private companies. This competition should result in lower healthcare insurance costs, with the public option serving as a kind of regulator, providing a controlling effect on costs.

The natural aversion toward the government is in play here, and topics like the public option and further government involvement in healthcare can heat up a room pretty quick. This is the momentum that supporters of change to the current system need to overcome.

Some are quick to point out that a public option is not fair to the private companies, that a non-profit government run insurance company will have business advantages that the private companies don't possess: the economies of scale associated with the potentially huge government company, no shareholders demanding a profit, lower overhead and operating expenses.

But, depending on how it is designed to operate, a public option could pressure private insurance companies to bend without breaking them - forcing them to play more fairly.

Should we have a public option

It seems we have been conditioned to accept the status quo, struggling through without insurance hoping that nothing serious happens to us or our families.

We think, that's just how it is, it's the price we pay for our freedoms, as we hope that the recovering, but changed, economy does not swallow our companies, and we lose our jobs and health insurance.

That type of thought is a by-product of our profit-based insurance companies. The companies are driven by their shareholders to make money, so in some way can we really blame them? Unfortunately, this money-making pushes our greater needs to the side. When people's lives are at stake, it seems there should be a better way.

We are the only advanced democracy in the world that operates this way. We are the exception, not the rule. Every other developed country has a non-profit-based health insurance program. Some, like Great Britain  and Canada, have a government-run health insurance program. Other countries such as Germany, France and Japan have private, but non-profit health insurance companies.

A public option could help to balance some of the inherent unfairness associated with the current system, I'll put my money on some type of public option.

And, by the way, it should not be too much money: The congressional budget office (CBO), a non partisan department of our federal government , has estimated that the House-passed proposal, which includes a public option, may actually reduce our national debt.

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Volume 1, Issue 6, Posted 10:02 AM, 12.10.2009