Weak Public Option Myths That Liberals Believe

For OpEdNews by Kevin Gosztola

On Saturday night, the Senate will take a procedural vote to move debate on the current health insurance enrichment bill in Congress forward.

Democratic Senators like Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy, and Chuck Schumer, through a project called Citizens for a Public Option, have been building support for the public option and encouraging Americans to write letters to the editor that debunk health care reform myths—myths that the conservative echo chamber have been propagating.

Senators (and representatives in the House and Obama) can champion this health insurance legislation all they want and claim it will “foster greater competition in the marketplace, create more choices for consumers, and lead to lower costs and better quality for all,” but doctors who have been on the front lines of America’s sick care non-system do not believe many of the arguments that Democrats are using to create support for a public option.

Myth #1 – Public option will help control costs

Dr. Margaret Flowers with Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) explains that Americans have been led to believe that “the public option is going to keep companies honest and help control costs.”

Obama and Congress are taking an approach that has failed to control costs time and time again.

“We’ve already had states that have tried this type of approach over the past few decades,” says Flowers. “Every state that has tried this approach has had these grandiose hopes where they had said we’re going to cover this many of hundreds of thousands of people in this time period and not a single one of them has succeeded. They’ve all fallen far short and then gone under financially.”

Self-employed doctor, Dr. Matt Hendrickson, who risked arrest in a MobilizeforHealthcare.org action at the Cigna Offices in Glendale, CA, cites examples “from the last 20 years of states that have attempted a public option.” He explains that Tennessee, Oregon, and Massachusetss (twice) have tried the public option.

“In each case, the number of uninsured went down briefly then returned to the baseline for one reason: cost,” said Hendrickson. “There’s no way to control cost as long as you allow private insurance industry to add a 25% surcharge to all healthcare transaction and to continue divert money to avoiding the sick, marketing and advertising, to avoid the sick and try to dump them onto a public plan.”

Anesthesiologist Dr. Samuel Metz, who is with the Mad as Hell Doctors, explains, “Massachusetts has been held up as an example of a state that has come closest to providing universal health insurance. However, not only has it failed to provide universal health insurance. It is also now the most expensive place on the planet for healthcare. It leads the U.S. in annual cost per person.”

The public option, “will not reduce the cost of healthcare,” says Metz. “In fact, it’s anticipated it will add $800 billion more into a system that’s already twice as expensive as the average industrialized nation.”

Myth #2 – The public option is a “public” option

The public option that came out of the House, according to Dr. Flowers, is “even worse than we could have imagined because they’re predicting that maybe 2% of the population will be able to go into that public option, that it will be run by private insurance companies, and that it will actually cost more than private insurance.”

What’s so public about something only open to 2% of the population?

As Kevin Zeese from the Prosperity Agendaexplains, “No matter how much you hate your current insurance, no matter how much they’ve abused you with premiums, co-pays, denials of care, no matter what they’ve done to you, you can’t leave your insurance and go to the public option,” said Zeese. “90% of Americans can’t even choose it. So much for choices.”

Flowers adds the government would be subsidizing the purse of private insurance to try to help people buy their products. Government would be putting public dollars into the pockets of private insurance companies. And, a private corporation would be allowed to run the public option.

How many Americans really think putting reform in the hands of those who have created this crisis in health care in America will ultimately work or produce any favorable results?

Myth #3 – Public option will make single-payer possible

Doctors, nurses, and patients following the de-evolution of health care reform closely know that the public option (especially the idea of a robust public option) is a carefully calculated political carrot being offered to progressives so they will sit down, shut up about single-payer, and support this current corporate giveaway to private insurance companies, which is moving through Congress right now.

Hendrickson explains, “The reason why the public option was introduced, according to congress people that have spoken to the single-payer movement, was because of the single-payer movement. There was such an upswell in the progressive part of this country for single-payer that they opted for some compromise that would not have been given if there wasn’t so much support for single-payer.”

If you ask Zeese, this won’t do anything to get us closer to single-payer.

This bill will “enshrine and deepen the power of the insurance industry.” Hundreds of billions of dollars in new revenue, according to Zeese, will now be available for corrupting and influencing Congress.

It will be even harder to get single-payer if a weak public option remains in the bill. And the money government gives away will help private insurance fight any additional reforms to legislation passed by Congress and Obama.

Metz concludes that the public option will make it impossible for us to achieve universal coverage for at least a decade.

“Every passing year we’ll see more Americans with worse health and nobody will do anything because we will point to our legislation and say give it another couple years to work,” says Metz. “And in five years, we will have exhausted the financial resources of the government, we will have exhausted taxpayers, we will have exhausted the good will of voters, the patience of voters, and no one will want to attempt health reform again.”


  1. lauren serven on December 7, 2009 at 11:28 am

    Thanks to the machinations of this current Administration, Single Payer is still off the table. No amount of arrests, no amount of death will change that situation and we must be realistic in our expectations. I say this after being arrested in CT on November 10th outside of the office building of Senator Joe Lieberman.

    The majority of Americans fear a Single Payer system. They view the idea as “government run healthcare” and are wary of a government institution controlling their access to health coverage. And can you blame them??? Look at the way the TARP has been handled. Look at the war(s) situation. Look at how the issue of climate control and alternative energy innovation has been stalled and manipulated.

    If we are to one day install a collective provision of health care funding to this nation we must first earn the people’s trust in the implementation of such a provision. We can best do this by insisting that the Congress open up Medicare for all citizens who wish to buy in. The current reimbursement rates will need to be negotiated by providers. Let’s create an “opt in” Single payer system based on Medicare and open it up to the American people. If you have current insurance you can keep it. Okay. But why not let the rest of the American public who have been sidelined or who are dissatisfied with their coverage create a huge new pool of insured peoples using our current Medicare system of health administration to service our need for affordable, comprehensive health coverage?

    You can ditch all the thousands of pages of legislation being “debated” in Congress. Let the insurance industry do what they want. Create a Medicare for All Public Option and let anyone opt in regardless of whether they have coverage or not. Institute standards of coverage that will ensure universality. Streamline administrative procedures, create treatment protocols that recognize medical successes and re-funnel savings back into the system to ensure it’s sustainability. We can do this. The only reason we are not is because the Congress is protecting the vital interests of the few at the expense of the many and hiding behind the notion of choice and open markets. Take away the denial of choice and open market which is used as an argument against Single Payer insist upon creating option using the same Single Payer principles. I would wager to bet that it will not be long before the majority of the American people would act to opt in.