Healthcare battle brewing: political groups gear up
A public insurance alternative is likely to be the most contentious of the reform proposals.
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“It really matters how each side gets their ideas out there and frames the debate – both sides are trying to influence bloggers and columnists to lay the groundwork for how people see it,” says Professor Blendon. “On one side, it’s framed as a terrific thing that will lower costs and give you more options. On the other, it’s painted as something where people could end up in a straitjacket of government-directed healthcare.”Skip to next paragraph
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Impact on consumer choice
Opponents of a public health insurance alternative, such as the Health Policy Consensus Group, the conservative coalition that issued the list of “deal killers,” contend that the government would use its “regulatory, pricing, and taxing authority” to favor its own plan. The group says that would make it difficult, if not impossible, for private health plans to compete and consumers would eventually find themselves without private insurance alternatives.
“If Obama sets up a public plan, and then he sets up an employer mandate on top of it – where all of the economic incentives are designed in such a way that employers will start dropping people by the millions out of their existing private plans – there is no way Obama keeps his promise that everyone can keep their current health insurance,” says Robert Moffit, director of the Heritage Foundation's Center for Health Policy Studies.
A Rasmussen poll in December 2008 found that 58 percent of Americans would oppose a public plan if they thought it would undermine their present private insurance policy.
Supporters of the public insurance option charge that conservative groups are "blatantly" misrepresenting Obama's plan and exaggerating its impact on private insurers. “There will always be people who want private insurance, and this system allows them to have it,” says Dr. Dean, founder of Democracy for America. “It would be like what everyone over the age of 65 already has: You’d be able to choose your current plan, or you could choose a public option like Medicare.”
The presence of a public health insurance plan will not drive private insurers out of business, say advocates such as Dean, but force them to become more efficient and responsive to businesses and consumer needs because they’ll have some competition.
While each side gears up for battle, some health-reform advocates are concerned that inflexibility on this issue could damage the overall goal of reform.
“It’s one thing to seek strong and broad support for different faces of healthcare reform, but it’s another to draw hard lines in the sand. That demonstrates a reckless disregard of the American public’s need for meaningful healthcare reform,” says Ron Pollack, president and CEO of Families USA, a health-reform advocacy organization in Washington. “Clearly, on the very difficult issues that are at the heart of healthcare reform, there needs to be a willingness to search for common ground instead of a knee-jerk rigidity.”