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Posted by on Jul 22, 2009 in Health, Politics, Society | 4 comments

At Last: A Mainstream Answer to Fearmongering on Health Care

The argument against public health care is so strong that the health insurance industry has to cherrypick and misrepresent poll data in order to make its case that the current system is a better deal:

The industry that helped scuttle health reform 15 years ago with its “Harry and Louise” ads is back, voicing support for a central element of the Obama administration’s plans: making sure everyone is covered.

That does not mean the industry is backing the administration. Indeed, the leader of the insurance lobby has sent lawmakers a message: Be careful what you change, because “77 percent of Americans are satisfied with their existing health insurance coverage.”

Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), invoked the statistic to argue against the creation of a government-run insurance option. But the polls are not that simple, and her assertion reveals how the industry’s effort to defend its turf has led it to cherry-pick the facts.

The poll Ignagni was citing actually undercuts her position: By 72 to 20 percent, Americans favor the creation of a public plan, the June survey by the New York Times and CBS News found. People also said that they thought government would do a better job than private insurers of holding down health-care costs and providing coverage.

In addition, data from a Kaiser Family Foundation poll last year, compiled at the request of The Washington Post, suggest that the people who like their health plans the most are the people who use them the least.

About all those choices and options you have now — to choose your health plan, your level of coverage, your doctor — that would be taken away from you under a government-run health care program:

Insurers argue that a government plan could dominate the market, reducing consumers’ options. But in the private market, options are limited by employers who restrict employees’ choice of insurers and by insurers who restrict their choice of doctors.

Cigna, one of the nation’s largest insurers, took away its own employees’ alternatives in 2006 and left them with only high-deductible coverage.

“There were a lot of unhappy people,” said Wendell Potter, who until last year was Cigna’s head of corporate communications. For many people enrolled in such plans, “the deductibles are so high that they forgo care,” he said.

Opponents of a public option argue that it could put government bureaucrats between patients and doctors. Today, for people with commercial or employer-sponsored coverage, care is overseen by private bureaucracies. Where government bureaucracies answer to the body politic, the corporate versions answer to Wall Street.

The issue of whether a public plan would be more successful at bringing costs under control is harder to evaluate. As a prototype for government-run health care, Medicare has failed to control costs and makes little effort to restrict care.

Economists generally agree that if costs are to be brought under control, someone must say no to care that doctors propose and patients demand. So far, that role has fallen primarily to insurers.

Here is the bottom line: Every one of the dire scenarios being predicted by the private insurance lobby and their friends in Congress for a public health care option is already happening — and worse, has been going on for decades already. We are facing — have been facing, for many years — a crisis in our ability to provide health care, both in terms of availability and cost, that is staggeringly serious. Those lawmakers in Congress, both Republican and Democratic, who are suggesting that their operatives “do anything to slow down health care reform,” who are trying to kill the reform package now ready to be voted on, who want to “start from scratch” in the fall, when there will be “plenty of time” to come up with something more acceptable to the private insurance industry and big business in general, are being incredibly irresponsible. Inaction right now is worse than imperfection.

We don’t need a “moderate” solution. This is not a moderate crisis. It’s a radical crisis. We need radical solutions. This bill doesn’t even qualify as radical — not even close. But it’s the best we’ve got right now and Congress should pass it before they go on vacation — or else make it a working vacation.