Fears over public option widespread but aren’t justified

There has been a lot of confusion about the provisions of this legislation, particularly about the public option. This would be a government-run plan, much like Medicare, and would be one of many options available as part of a healthcare exchange, which is similar to the health insurance choices of members of Congress and their employees. I have long fought to make sure that every American has the kind of health coverage that members of Congress have and this legislation will help us reach that goal.

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I have also heard concerns that Americans would be forced into the public option, or that this legislation will put private insurance companies out of business, but that is simply not the case. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that just 10 million Americans would chose the public option, with most people opting for one of the privately run choices. This would allow the public option to compete with private plans to drive down costs, but would in no way put private companies out of business. Americans could keep their current insurance if they want and the public option would remain simply that, one insurance option among many from which people could choose. It would not be forced on anyone and would not drive private insurers out of business.

While we may respectfully disagree on some of the provisions in this bill, most of us can agree that the problems in our healthcare system can no longer be ignored. Families across the country are seeing their premiums skyrocket, more and more people are going without, and others cannot get coverage due to pre-existing conditions. Many people have to wait until an emergency to seek medical treatment, turning what could have been a simple doctor’s visit into a costly trip to the E.R. When people cannot pay these bills, the American taxpayer bears a portion of the financial burden. Medical providers raise the prices of services to cover these uncompensated costs, thereby increasing costs for everyone and driving up health insurance premiums. In 2008, Americans covered approximately $42.7 billion of these costs, which translates to about $1,017 per insured family and $368 per insured single person.

To address this issue, the House healthcare reform bill increases competition between insurers, thereby reducing costs and helping the nearly 50 million uninsured Americans access healthcare. It also prevents insurers from denying or dropping coverage due to pre-existing conditions. This will allow these people to be treated in the early stages of their condition at a doctor’s office, rather than going to the emergency room after their condition has progressed. This will save money for the patient, the taxpayer and the medical providers, ultimately bringing down health care costs for everyone.

Once again, since human life is precious, this is a sensitive issue that must be treated with respect and delicacy. But it is important not to let emotion or the rhetoric of either side decide how we fix our healthcare system. All Americans deserve quality, affordable healthcare and I am committed to working on this health reform to ensure it is done right.

Kildee is a member of the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions and senior member of the House Committee on Education and Labor.