Experts Argue for and Against a Public Option

Thursday, August 6, 2009; 10:55 AM

The Washington Post's online panel Health Care Rx provides a forum for experts to offer real-world insights into how to improve health care. This week, panelists were asked to address the question, "Do you think that a government-sponsored health insurance option is needed to help control rising costs and 'keep insurers honest,' as President Obama says?"

Here are some excerpts from their responses:


-- "Most of the uninsured currently get care through a patchwork of public safety-net programs, so a lot of the required funds are not new but can be better directed through a optional public plan that supports a true health system." -- Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

-- "I like the idea of our legislators being the first to participate in the public option insurance plan. If our senators and representatives have issues with their coverage, they will be motivated to remedy those problems quickly. That way, their constituents won't have the same insurance issues down the line. This will be an excellent example of 'what's good for the goose is good for the gander.' " -- Willarda Edwards, president-elect of the National Medical Association and an internist in Baltimore.

-- "Those advocating for a public plan have been ridiculed as being in favor of government bureaucrats seizing health care. Opponents decry the public option as a sham or forerunner for a single-payer system. Not true. Though I am in no way a big government zealot, or naively misguided to think that government action will be flawless, I am also not frightened by a public-private partnership." -- Chris T. Pernell, doctor and ordained clergywoman in New Jersey.


-- "A public health insurance plan will not be less expensive. It will not be fairer to the people it insures. It will not be more efficient. However, it will prove once and for all that a government-sponsored health plan is not the panacea that many politicians make it out to be." -- Jeff D. Emerson, president of NorthEnd Group, a health-care services and technology consulting and advisory company.

-- "Instead of implementing a new insurance plan, the government can reach its desired results by introducing appropriate legislation that guides insurance coverage to more people in more cost-effective ways. . . . For example, the government could require businesses of a certain size to offer their employees insurance coverage and, where necessary, underwrite individuals and small businesses who cannot afford insurance plans. -- Linda Leckman, chief executive of Intermountain Medical Group.

-- "I cannot imagine that any public health plan operated under the same rules as a private insurance plan could be competitive. The public plan would be subject to all sorts of political interventions and would be required to delay making changes in health plan until it had solicited extensive public comments. It would not be allowed to operate as flexibly with respect to labor work rules or to invest in much technology innovation as a private insurance carrier." -- Michael J. Critelli, who served as the chief executive at Pitney Bowes, a mailing solutions company, for 11 years, where he innovated in employer-based health care.

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