READ AND EDITED
OP-ED PUBLIC OPTION 10-01
Why Queens needs
the public option
BY REPRESENTATIVE ANTHONY WEINER
It is often said that watching legislation being made is like watching sausage being made – not a pretty sight. After watching this health care debate, I would say we are being too harsh on sausage making. This legislation, which Democrats have been pushing for over 40 years and began as a way to cover all Americans, has become a debate over catchphrases and meaningless solutions.
Both sides have been guilty of muddling the debate with phrases like death panels and co-ops or trigger options and socialized medicine. Unfortunately, the one phrase that we should be discussing and the one I will continue to fight for, the public option, has become the most feared by both sides.
These silly debates have dominated the headlines, but without acknowledging it, both sides have actually made the case for the public option. The right has conceded that the public option would have less overhead, be more efficient and have the freedom to focus on health care rather than profits an unfair advantage as they call it. My Democratic colleagues have worked to create a series of co-ops or a trigger option – basically a weakened and delayed way of having a public option in the hopes of reaching some sort of bipartisan agreement.
Now I understand why insurance companies are afraid of the public option. This is an industry whose 10 largest companies saw their profits rise 428 percent from 2000 to 2007 – a remarkable feat for an industry that does not provide any real service.
We all know insurance companies use a formula to provide as little health care as possible for each dollar they take in. This isn’t because they are uncaring. It is because they are good business people. They also don’t do a single thing to keep you healthy. They don’t perform check-ups or operations; they assess no risk in covering individuals because they kick you off once you actually need health care.
The public option would prompt Americans to ask a basic question of the insurance companies: What is it that you guys do, exactly?
What I don’t understand, is why my colleagues in Congress are so afraid of the public option.
Forty percent of Americans already get their health care from a single-payer, government-run, government-administered public option plan through Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Administration and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They have a good experience and I am sure if you ask anyone on Medicare they will tell you they have never heard the phrase pre-existing condition and nobody at the VA has ever been kicked off their plan because they filled out paperwork incorrectly. Therefore, we have a clear example of how effective a public option can be.
Is Medicare perfect? No. Are there areas for improvements? Absolutely. Is there fraud and waste in Medicare that must be addressed and eliminated? Yes.
But I challenge you to find me a company, organization or program of that magnitude that doesn’t face similar obstacles. However, these deficiencies are not a reflection of a failure of the single-payer system. They are failures to make smart decisions about what we pay for and how. There is no doubt that we must fix our present single-payer system, but Medicare is a popular, well-understood, amazingly efficient form of wait for it socialized medicine.
I believe Medicare for all Americans is the right prescription for our ailing health care system. In the coming weeks I will introduce an amendment that will offer a Medicare-style plans for 55-year-olds, young citizens who just graduated and middle class families who need health care but cannot afford it. In addition, a plan that will allow policy makers to address how we keep Americans healthy, instead of off shoring that responsibility to insurance companies whose only concern is how to turn a profit with no concern for your health.
I hope my colleagues in Congress can move beyond catchphrases and patchwork solutions and admit what we all know a public option is the only true solution to control costs, provide competition and cover all Americans.
Representative Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn and Queens) represents the 9th Congressional District.