Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Need for a Public Option

When I was 13 years old, doctors diagnosed me with cancer. I was covered under my parents’ insurance policy, so we were not forced to pay all the medical bills out of pocket. Also, since I was able to take preventative measures with yearly visits to my doctor, it was easier for the doctors to find my tumor at an early stage and treat it quickly. Today, I am 20 years old and healthy.

But I am VERY lucky. If I was like millions of other Americans, my insurance company would have dropped my coverage because I had become a “risky” case. If I applied for a different insurance company, they would not have taken me because I had a pre-existing condition.

In this case, my parents would be forced to pay all the medical expenses out of pocket, since there would be nowhere else for me to go. Due to the high and increasing costs of medical treatment, this would have most certainly caused my parents to file for bankruptcy.

Here’s the problem: the U.S. spends more, per capita, than any other industrialized nation in the world on healthcare. According to research by the nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund, published in the journal, Health Affairs, the U.S. ranks last in quality of health care and the number of preventable deaths. Compared to these 19 industrialized nations, including Canada, the UK, France, Germany, and Japan, not only are Americans paying more, but we have a lower life expectancy and higher rates of obesity and infant mortality. Also, the journal estimates that 44,000 Americans die each year as a result of a lack of health insurance.

Something needs to be done. This is where the public option comes in to play. It ensures real competition within the health insurance industry, which is currently dominated by a handful of major insurance corporations, and it provides coverage for all citizens while lowering costs.

Some claim this will lead to “socialism,” often citing cases like Canada and the UK. However, these people fail to realize certain issues.

First of all, Canada and the UK have a single-payer system, where there is no private insurance and the government runs the entire system. A public option ensures that a government-run plan competes and co-exists with private-run insurance companies, as is the case with France, Germany, and Japan. Secondly, although patients in Canada and UK may wait in long lines to receive treatment, at least they have coverage. They are not denied and rationed care.

It is undeniable that the situation in the U.S. needs to be fixed. Businesses are paying much more on healthcare per worker than the foreign average, increasing their outsourcing rates and taking away American jobs. Hospitals are forced to pay more for covering patients who arrive at the emergency room without insurance. Tax payers also pay more for these ER patients whose problems could have been cured earlier and for less cost, if preventative care had been an option.

Healthcare is more than medicine. It’s about people. People should be given a choice between private and public coverage, much like the option members in Congress have. A public option will provide that choice and ensure better care.

Now is the time we take action, make our voices heard and urge members of Congress to support the public option.

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