Posted by: David Offutt | September 24, 2009

An Observation on the Public Option

President-Obama-addresses-Joint-Session-of-Congress-in-WashingtonSeptember 17, 1787, was the day the Constitutional Convention signed the U. S. Constitution in Philadelphia. That date is now a federal holiday known as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. Luckily, after a long hiatus, we now seem to have a president and a Congress that understand and even like the U. S. Constitution.

President Barack Obama is a constitutionalist, and sometimes it’s to a fault. Respecting the separation of powers, he wanted the Congress to originate the health care reform bill. Of course, he was also trying to avoid the Clintons’ mistake of creating a health care plan almost solely by the executive branch. However, the president should have submitted his own bill for the advice and consent of the various committees. He needed to be clear what he wanted in it.  The powerful speech he gave September 9 to the Congress should have been given in April or May. We probably would have received an excellent health care reform bill before August – and better than the one we will get now.

The Republican Party, of course, is not going to support any reform bill, and it took advantage of the August recess to confuse and mobilize its increasingly shrinking base. Radicals and reactionaries showed up at right-wing-organized rallies and at town meetings to promote lies and misinformation. Hopefully, some of the attendees were only curious spectators, but it was distressing to think that these people had insurance themselves and didn’t want those without insurance to have the chance to get it. The purpose of these noisy protests apparently was to frighten moderate Democratic congressmen into fearing their reelection chances if they vote for the public option. In Arkansas, Senator Blanche Lincoln and (Blue-Dog) Representative Mike Ross have since publicly stated their opposition to the public option insurance plan.

The Republicans know that without the public option there will be little, if anything, to keep down the costs and profits of the profit-motivated private health insurance companies. Moderate Democrat Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, foolishly kept trying to compromise with Republicans who wanted to weaken the bill. His committee recently proposed a plan that is essentially a boondoggle for private insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. His is the only plan in consideration that does not offer the essential public option. Hence, it is the only proposal that may be worse than having no bill at all. Sadly, even Mike Ross over in the House might be sympathetic to the Baucus plan – Mr. Ross used to own a pharmacy in Prescott, AR.

Fortunately, I have a full-time job that provides me with excellent insurance coverage. Thanks to government regulations, every full-time employee must be accepted in our group policy regardless of pre-existing conditions (although, any complication of that pre-existing condition may not be covered). I also have an excellent primary-care physician of my choice. Nevertheless, it would certainly be comforting to know that a public option health plan was available if I ever needed it.

One valid concern that I have heard against establishing universal health care in the United States is that we may not be able to get an appointment to see our doctor as early as we would like. Apparently, there are not enough primary care physicians to handle the 40-plus million who do not currently have insurance. I hope I won’t be so self-centered as to be unsympathetic to those in need. I am reminded of the character played by Maggie Smith in the movie Titanic. Knowing that 1500 people were going to drown, she said of her lifeboat, “I hope it won’t be too crowded.”

by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published September 18, 2009, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.

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