Public option enjoys broad support despite falsehoods spread by critics


Now, one year later, the week President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress, support for a robust public option is still sticking. In fact, four out of five Americans support the creation of a new federal health insurance plan that individuals could purchase if they cannot afford private plans offered them (2009 Poll by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates). Even 61 percent of Republicans support this idea.

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This is also unsurprising. The public option presented in America’s Affordable Health Choices Act, H.R. 3200, has broad public appeal. It encourages free market competition by driving down costs, incentivizing more effective and efficient service across the industry, and ensuring that the customer is provided with quality, competitive options.

What is surprising, and disheartening, is the level of misinformation. It is pervasive and pernicious. For example, the cry of socialism is not only erroneous but neglects the fact taxpayers are already burdened with covering the costs of 46 million uninsured Americans, through increased use of emergency and social services, decreased worker productivity and weaker economic output. The public option, in contrast, works to save taxpayer dollars by promoting preventive health so that emergency and social services are not so heavily burdened and worker productivity and economic output increase. The savings realized through this prevention-oriented approach will be substantial.

Negotiating truths and untruths, however, may not be the best way to build a solid foundation on which to broker healthcare reform. Instead of points and counterpoints, confidence-building mechanisms are needed. Perhaps a better way to pursue good policy at this point is to find commonalities. When it comes to healthcare reform, there are many.

First, America is agreed on the need to lower costs. The fact that America pays more than any other nation when it comes to healthcare, yet ranks low comparatively on personal health, is indicative of our poor return on investment. Ireland, for example, with universal coverage, spends half ($3,082 per capita, compared to our $6,714) but ranks highest among all development nations on personal health. Reform is no doubt needed. In response, H.R. 3200 eliminates co-pays and deductibles for preventive care, prohibits rate increases for pre-existing conditions, gender, or occupation, puts a cap on out-of-pocket expenses, and guarantees affordable oral, hearing, and vision care for your kids.

Second, America is agreed on the need for greater choice and higher quality. Under H.R. 3200, Americans can keep their doctor, and current plan, if they like them. And with the addition of a public option, we give Americans more choice by offering a high-quality public health insurance option that is cost competitive with private insurers. In our bill, Americans and their doctors will make healthcare decisions (not insurance companies), family doctors and nurses will enter the workforce, which helps guarantee access, and mental healthcare will be covered.

Third, America is agreed on the need for stability and peace of mind when it comes to health insurance. With our bill, Americans will no longer have to worry about being denied for pre-existing conditions or worry about lifetime limits on how much insurance companies will pay. And never again will Americans have to make a job or life decision based on healthcare coverage.

In sum, the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act is made for America. We know that Americans like their freedom, which is why our bill does not take away anyone’s insurance, nor does it force anyone into a public option. Furthermore the public option is not tied to employment status — a net positive for those who might want or need to change their job — and will operate alongside private plans. We also know Americans are mindful of their money. The bill cuts costs, saving roughly $500 billion, by including incentives to reduce hospital re-admissions, investments in fraud detections, and savings obtained from the pharmaceutical industry (by locking in rebates for seniors).

My colleagues in Congress and I are not promoting an Irish-inspired reformation. All we want is to offer an overpriced and bloated healthcare market with some good old-fashioned competition to reduce costs by unburdening emergency services and encouraging early warning and prevention, guarantee choice, and ensure quality care. And if we act now, we can save each American household $1,800 annually. A public option will do that. Nothing less.

Honda chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.