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Thursday, July 30, 2009 12:27 pm

Real competition can stop health insurance gouging

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President Barack Obama, joined by members of Congress and medical professionals outside the White House, speaks on health care reform July 15.
PHOTO BY OLIVIER DOULIERY/MCT

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama is all for the congressional effort to produce health care reform — as long as the legislation we end up with doesn’t contain any actual reform.

Indeed, the senator gets fainting spells at the mere mention of Barack Obama’s proposed reforms, gasping that they add up to socialized health care. He recently stammered that the president’s plan would destroy “the best health care system the world has ever known.”

Huh? This guy puts the “dumb” in dumbfounding. Maybe by “finest” he meant the most expensive, for it surely is that. But the best? Hardly. The quality of our care ranks 37th in the world — only one notch better than Slovenia!

But perhaps it’s not Shelby’s fault that he’s so out of touch with the unpleasant reality that most Americans face when they’re sick and have to cope with the costly, bureaucratic, uncaring system now run by a handful of insurance corporations. After all, he’s been in Congress for 30 years, so he and his family have long been receiving platinum-level coverage courtesy of us taxpayers. Maybe he assumes everyone gets the same. You see, since Shelby already gets excellent socialized health care, of course he thinks it’s the finest.

Obama’s proposed reform is not so bold as to offer you and me the same sweet deal that our Congress-critters get, but it does include one provision to help us escape the untender mercies of insurance profiteers. Called the “public option,” it creates a publicly run insurance plan as an alternative to the costly, inscrutable policies shoved at us by the big insurers.

The beauty of this option is that it gives everyone a real choice. Since the public insurance plan doesn’t rake off a profit, doesn’t need a massive marketing budget, won’t pay multimillion-dollar executive salaries and won’t have an army of backroom agents working to deny payment for treatments our doctors prescribe, it will offer better coverage at a cheaper price than the private corporations offer.

This public policy would provide a competitive balance on the price and quality of coverage available to us consumers. The choice is up to us, for the public option is, after all, optional. If you’re happy to have an insurance corporation be your health care broker, go with that. If not, you can consider purchasing the public policy.

This makes so much sense that the insurers, drug makers, hospitals, nursing homes and other big players in the health care industry carefully pondered how the public option would be so beneficial to the people — then, in unison, the industry issued its measured response: “Shhrrriiieeekkk! Nooooooooo!! Yikes-Yikes-Yikes!!!”

Insurance executives have largely divvied up the national health insurance market so they’ve been able to avoid competing against each other (the American Medical Association’s 2008 study of health insurance markets in 314 U.S. cities found that 94 percent of them are “highly concentrated”). So they are apoplectic at the prospect of having a genuine price-and-quality competitor in every U.S. market.

Thus, the industry is going all-out to kill the public option — not by defeating it in the marketplace, but by unleashing its army of Washington lobbyists to get Congress to kill it. Instead of bullets, they’re firing millions of dollars in campaign donations at our lawmakers. The question is whether the industry’s political cash and lobbying clout will induce enough senators and representatives to vote against the American people — 72 percent of whom tell pollsters they want the public option included.

To learn more and to support real consumer choice in health insurance, contact: democracyforamerica.com.

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