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It looks like the next big debate to heat up in Congress is going to be over health-care reform.
Part of the proposed solution involves what's known as the "public option": a government health-care plan that would be open to anyone. People and employers would still be free to buy private health insurance if they want.
But for some, the very idea of giving people the option to buy public health insurance evokes dire prophecies of doom. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal fumed that "like Medicare and Medicaid, the Obama Public Option in time will become an impossible fog for patients to navigate."
Republican Sen. Jim DeMint assures us that the public option will drive private insurers out of business: "Government never competes in a private market; it takes the market over." Honorable John McCain agreed, telling CNN: "Look, if we have a government option, then sooner or later ... it will crowd out private health insurance."
So let me get this straight. Publicly funded health care, even as an option, is poorly run, inefficient and will lead to rationing of health care -- but private health insurers can't compete with it? Tells you something about the state of private insurers, doesn't it?
By the way, when it comes to rationing of health care, I've got news for you: We have that now. It's just that the rationing is now done by insurance companies who decide whether treatments are too expensive and how long you're allowed to stay in the hospital. And of course, if you're uninsured, your health care is rationed even more severely: You've got the ER for when you collapse, but other than that -- too bad, you're out of luck.
But, you say, everybody knows that a system purporting to provide universal health care doesn't work. Just ask Austria, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, or Switzerland. Except ... wait, all of those countries have something that wingnuts would decry as "socialized medicine." It's amazing there's anyone still alive there.
On the other hand, I saw a commercial from some health insurance company that said the socialized medicine system in Great Britain has some problems, so it must not work anywhere. We should probably just give up.
It's also ironic that the people who are most insistent that government-sponsored and government-run health care won't work are lawmakers who are themselves on a health-care plan paid for by taxpayers and run by the government, through the Office of Personnel Management. Their attitude seems to be, "Government health care for me and not for thee."
So here's my challenge, senators: You think private-sector health insurance is so keen, go off your congressional health plan. Go out there, with your government salary, ring up Blue Cross/Blue shield or CIGNA or Kaiser Permanente or whichever one you decide is more competitive. Try to get a price quote. Pray that you don't have something they'd regard as a "pre-existing condition."
Be very careful in filling out your health history, because as one former CIGNA exec put it this week, before Congress, under oath: "They look carefully to see if a sick policyholder may have omitted a minor illness, a pre-existing condition, when applying for coverage, and then they use that as justification to cancel the policy, even if the enrollee has never missed a premium payment."
In earlier testimony, executives from other health insurers refused to consider the idea that coverage should be dropped only for "willful and intentional" fraud and asserted their God-given right to drop coverage for the sickest Americans for even inadvertent or minor errors on their application.
So go ahead, senators. Buy your own "competitive" health-care plan for you, your families, and while we're at it, your staff. Then try to keep it if anyone gets sick.
I dare you.