CHICAGO - A group of Democratic lawmakers moved quickly yesterday and filed a bill that would give the people of the nation the right to choose a publicly run health insurance plan. The bill, H.R. 26, introduced by Reps Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Henry Waxman, D-Calif., is called the Public Option Deficit Reduction Act and would shave, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), $104 billion off the federal deficit over the next 10 years.
Within 24 hours of its introduction, the bill had 45 co-sponsors in the House with more lawmakers expected to sign on.
The public option did not become part of the Affordable Care Act when it was signed into law two years ago because of concerted opposition to it by the insurance companies and lawmakers whose votes the insurers controlled.
"But with all the Republican emphasis on deficit reduction these days, this should be something they love," Schakowsky said. "Not only will it reduce the deficit but it will give consumers a choice, something the Republicans always say they support and, as a bonus, it will create competition and result in private insurers having to lower their prices."
Health care experts have long said that a public health insurance option not only would provide lower-cost health insurance for those who choose it but would also force private insurers to lower their premiums. The public option was struck from the 2009 health care reform bill before it came up for a final vote.
Schakowsky said that as a deficit reducer the bill is the "right way to go. It reduces the deficit without cutting health care benefits and it reduces the deficit without shifting the burden of doing so onto working families and on the poor who can afford it least.
"American health consumers deserve a publicly accountable, transparent and lower-cost option. The bill would provide that choice and lower the federal deficit at the same time. We cannot let for-profit insurance companies continue to prevent American consumers and American taxpayers from benefiting from passage of the public option." Schakowsky said.
She explained that, according to the CBO, a public health insurance option would offer premiums 5 percent to 7 percent lower than private health insurance companies.
"By providing a lower-cost alternative to private insurance, it would put pressure on all insurers to lower their premiums in order to compete," she added.
According to Schakowsky, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated a public option could reduce the deficit by $104 billion over 10 years. If coupled with other measures such as allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimates a 10-year cost savings of $278 billion. That's in addition to the health care cost savings the Affordable Care Act is already achieving.
Photo: Rep. Schakowsky at a press conference, on the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act. Image from Rep. Schakowsky's official website.