Health care public option debate cut the baloney

OPINION

A lot has been written about the health care public option over the past few days. While some commentaries discuss the honest concerns many Americans have, others claim the would-be government-run plan is dead in the water.

The public option is going nowhere, nor will it cut costs, they argue.

For example, Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein writes, 'There is nothing about having a government-owned health insurance company that is likely to change the competitive dynamic and bring costs under control.'

Quite pessimistically, he adds, 'If there is anything that's been made clear over the last two weeks, it is that the public option is a political non-starter that threatens the entire reform effort.'

What does Pearlstein mean? What evidence does he use to back up his claims?

First, according to our esteemed columnist, costs won't come down because hospital chains 'dictate rates to private insurers' and 'drug companies have monopoly pricing power ... Ditto for medical-equipment makers.' Additionally, 'there's no particular evidence that a government-run insurance plan will be any more successful than what we currently get from big private insurers.'

Second, Pearlstein argues that 'liberals have played right into the hands of Republicans who aim to defeat any reform by mischaracterizing it as a government takeover.'

According to this theory, since Republicans will inevitably mischaracterize the public option, liberals, progressives and average Americans shouldn't fight for it — or else we play into their hands and threaten other, more realistic reforms.

So just to be clear, here is what Pearlstein's logic boils down to: The health care reform movement should give up on the public option because hospitals dictate rates and drug companies price fix. Additionally, we should give up on the public option because Republicans will lie about it.

Wow, that is quite the logical summersault! I wonder if Pearlstein actually read what he wrote. Because it sure as hell didn't make any sense to me!

To the average American, I'm sure it sounds like a lot of baloney. To them, it sounds like the insurance companies, the drug companies, and the hospitals all have too much power. And as for the Republicans, average Americans are tired of their outright lies. In addition, the professional town-hall disrupters from the fringe, with all their yelling, heckling and assaulting, only illustrate the right wing's desperation.

In fact, the only thing the past two weeks has proven is the desperate depths to which the Republicans and their health care industry lobbyists will go.

If anything, to honest, sincere people — to the majority of Americans — the health care public option is a complex — maybe even scary — plan that they are unsure about. But, that's OK. After eight years of government mismanagement a little skepticism is only natural.

However, most Americans want to have a sincere, open, honest discussion, free from lies and mischaracterizations. If open, honest discussions take place, most Americans will continue to support a health care public option — as they currently do.

Far from threatening the entire reform movement, the public option emboldens the reform movement. It provides cohesion and a unified voice. It provides a benchmark. As Gov. Howard Dean recently remarked: 'You can't have reform without a public option.' In addition, it would give the Obama administration another victory, reinforcing its progressive trajectory, while giving millions of Americans access to health care.

tonypec @ cpusa.org