Fresh from Colorado Public Radio, I have just heard that Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) supports a public option for health care reform, but only if certain conditions are met. For example, the public option would have to compete fairly with private insurers. I don't understand why and I don't think it should. Here's why.
Health insurance companies are not in the business of providing health care services. They are in the business of handling claims and bills. Their role is largely administrative, and adds little or nothing to the quality of health care that human beings receive. In fact, the opposite is true. A large number of health insurance companies (if not the totality of them) exist to provide a profit, either to their shareholders or to their highly paid executives. Even not-for-profit health insurance is not truly uninterested in profit: "Profit is what is left over after expenses are calculated, and those expenses include everything from CEO salaries to artwork in hospitals." So, you see, not-for-profit is in the bottom line of the beholder. The more claims they turn down, the fatter their bottom line. The practice of denying claims often results in preventable suffering and deaths for the insured, and in the enduring grief of their loved ones. More people are bankrupted because of health care costs in the United States every year than for any other single reason.
The public outcry for the need for health insurance reform (shared, supposedly, even by those who oppose the Administration's efforts to reform health care, up to and including AHIP's president, Karen Ignagni) stems from the truly shameful way in which insurance companies have operated so far, including using domestic battery, pregnancy, and acne as pre-existing conditions to deny or cancel coverage. The latest example of the insurance industry's criminal callousness is canceling coverage for an entire category of patients, those affected by muscular dystrophy (hardly the result of individual behavior).
When people like Sen. Udall say that we must ensure that a public option would compete "fairly" against private companies he neglects to consider that "fairly" is a word that simply does not exist in the insurance industry's vocabulary and that competing fairly would be like bending over backwards to please an industry that has bent us over the years to the point of cracking us. The time to be nice to the crooks that populate the boardrooms of health insurance companies is over. I hope Sen. Udall gets the message. In fact, I will send his office a link to this post.