Preserving the public option: the case for the House health bill

To “bring the house down” usually means “being effective”, “kick-ass” or “doing your thing”. In other words, one should generate so much applause that the walls collapse or the roof is “torn off the sucka”.

As Congress returns to session, Democratic lawmakers and President Obama are reportedly preparing to engage in “ping-pong”, or in other words less formal and less transparent negotiations over making changes to the health reform bill as it bounces back and forth between the Senate and the House before it finally reaches the president’s desk. They are embracing this strategy to avoid seeing health reform stalled by its opponents. As this final stage in the legislative process begins, the public, and especially black folks, need to actively support the provisions in the House bill that include a public option even if appears to be, at best, a remote possibility.

Health reform is vital to reducing escalating health care costs. By introducing competition for health insurance companies and providers, insurance mandates for individuals, a focus on prevention and providing accessible and affordable health care for individuals and their families, health outcomes may be improved. Despite most media coverage about health reform, which many Americans rate as ‘only fair or poor’, television advertisements and debates by talking heads, almost 50 percent of Americans report being confused about the details of health reform.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation paper examined the effects of the recession on communities of color; their findings indicate the need for a public option and support of the House bill. People of color have lower rates of health coverage and more difficulty accessing the system. Blacks and Latinos have unemployment rates at twice that of whites. It is estimated that a “1 percentage point increase in the national unemployment rate leads to an increase of 1.1 million uninsured persons and 1 million new Medicaid and SCHIP enrollees”. A lack of coverage leads to a delay in seeking medical attention with potentially worse health outcomes and increased costs.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that the House bill will cover seven million more uninsured by 2019 than the Senate Finance Committee bill. The House bill will reduce the number of uninsured by 36 million and put a damper on the growth of health care cost growth by making Medicare more efficient.

A public plan or option (included in the House Bill) will allow choice, affordability and meet the same requirements as private plans. Subsidies will be provided to families with incomes of up to 400 percent of the poverty level with limited premium costs and limits on out of pocket spending. The Senate bill does not include a public plan and allows states to opt out on a health coverage exchange. The danger is that states with the most medically needy constituents or highest rates of uninsured will opt-out.

Health reform without a strong public option is not real change.

Contact your state senators and voice your support for a health reform bill that includes a strong public option. Let’s bring the House down.