Public option — accept nothing less

For decades, this country has endured a broken system that restricts and denies coverage when individuals need it most. Everyday, my office hears heartbreaking stories of individuals and families losing their insurance due to pre-existing conditions, bankruptcies and the exorbitant cost of care. Even for those with “good quality” healthcare coverage, the premiums alone force many to choose between medication or food on the table.

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Some members of Congress are not making it easy to pass true reform. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) recently released his version of healthcare reform.

However, his bill fails to meet the most basic principles of healthcare reform. The legislation presented is nothing more than a giveaway to the insurance companies. It is telling that even with the concessions made to the bill, no member of the Senate, including the “Gang of Six,” stood with him in support.

The Baucus bill is all about the insurance industry’s bottom line: no teeth in enforcements and regulations, endless patent hoarding for the pharmaceutical industry and laws that rein in citizens to pay these industries the largest transfer of wealth in history.

The lack of competition among health insurance companies is crippling consumer choice, driving up prices and hurting those who need healthcare the most. A robust public option will make the private insurance companies compete, help bring down out of control prices, and ensure that the American people are guaranteed a choice when searching for affordable, quality healthcare.

Republicans are not going to support any healthcare bill we put forth. It is time for Democrats to start talking honestly among themselves about what is best for the American people, not offering watered down bills to appease Republicans and the insurance company executives who have them in their pockets.

President Obama’s recognition of a public option as an integral part of the healthcare reform legislation is a good first step; now, he needs to be more direct about what the public option means and what it will do for the American people. President Obama must live up to the promises he made about real change and prove that he truly stands for the uninsured and working families that need and demand a public option.

We in the majority must have the courage to do what is in our power to do, and pass a bill that guarantees access to affordable, quality healthcare.

The public option will serve as this guarantee. It will be one entity, operated by the government, which will set policies and bear the risks for paying medical clams to keep costs low and quality high. The public option will be modeled after successful public programs, like Medicare, and provide the transparency and consumer protections that are lacking in the private insurance industry today. My progressive colleagues and I envision an option that is available to all individuals and employers, without limitations. We do not need a “trigger” to let us know if healthcare is unaffordable. The 47 million uninsured Americans are proof of our healthcare system’s failure.

The public option is absolutely critical to control costs and act as a check on private insurance companies because no anti-trust regulations are applicable to private insurers. Real competition is currently stymied by large national insurance companies buying up smaller firms and creating a monopoly. In some states, a single company may control over 83 percent of the insurance market.  Lower premiums are out of reach for millions of Americans because of the lack of competition.

The public option that so many of my Progressive colleagues and I support will end the insurance companies’ monopoly and control over our individual health. The public option is one of the choices that individuals will have as consumers of health insurance. The era of insurance companies dictating who receives care and what care they receive will be over.

Standing by and praying the insurance companies will develop a conscience can be no more. If we are to ensure that all Americans receive healthcare that is accessible, guaranteed and of high quality, we must include a public option. I will continue to be vigilant on ensuring that the final legislation contains a strong public option that prioritizes people, not corporations.

Anything less is unacceptable.

Grijalva is co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.