Opinion

The Great Debate

Is a public health insurance option essential?

The debate over healthcare reform heated up this weekend when a top U.S. health official called into question the government-run health insurance option favored by President Barack Obama.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
said on Sunday a public option was “not the essential element” of any overhaul, and that non-profit cooperatives being considered by a Senate panel could also fulfill the White House goal of creating more competition on insurance.

Democratic dissenters of this view come out in full force.

“You can’t have reform without a public option,” Howard Dean, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and a vocal supporter of an overhaul, said on CBS’s “Early Show.”

“I don’t think it can pass without the public option,” Dean said. “There are too many people who understand, including the president himself, the public option is absolutely linked to reform.”

Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner of New York, who backs a public option, said in a statement “leaving private insurance companies the job of controlling the costs of healthcare is like making a pyromaniac the fire chief.”

Reuters.com asked a panel of experts to weigh in on the debate. Here are their responses:
(Updated at 8:15 pm ET)
ted-okonTed A. Okon is the executive director of the Community Oncology Alliance, a professional organization representing community oncologists. The views expressed are his own.

Experts weigh in on nonprofit healthcare cooperatives

Reuters.com asked members of our expert panel on healthcare reform what role, if any, nonprofit cooperatives should play in healthcare reform policy? Here are their responses:
(Updated at 14:35 ET on July 30 to include Ted Okon’s view.)

Wendell PotterWendell Potter is the senior fellow on healthcare for the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin. The views expressed are his own.

The idea of nonprofit cooperatives being able to compete effectively with the cartel of large for-profit insurers that dominate the market today is so naive one has to wonder if the legislative language proposing their creation was written by insurance company lobbyists.

Peddling damaged goods

steffie-himmelstein-combo– Dr. Steffie Woolhandler and Dr. David Himmelstein are both associate professors of medicine at Harvard Medical School and primary care doctors at Cambridge Hospital. They co-founded Physicians for a National Health Program. –

Once they’re finished mandating that we all buy private health insurance, Congress can move on to requiring Americans to purchase other defective products. A Ford Pinto in every garage? Lead-painted toys for every child? Melamine-laced chow for every puppy?

Private health insurance doesn’t work. Even middle class families with supposedly good coverage are just one serious illness away from financial ruin. In a study carried out with colleagues from Harvard Law School and Ohio University we found that medical bills and illness contributed to 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies in 2007 – a 50 percent increase since 2001. Strikingly, three quarters of the medically bankrupt had insurance – at least when they first got sick.

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