The Obama administration is the engineer on a legislative train racing to complete a health care reform overhaul before the August congressional recess.
The train has passed another major milestone in its journey: key Senate and a key House committee plans that would expand health insurance coverage to nearly all Americans and offer a strong government-run public insurance option.
Senators Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., both of whom are on the Senate health committee, have been talking up the public option piece of the plan approved by their committee.
Both say the public option would keep the private insurers honest and could lead to lower rates of increase in health care costs. They also say individuals who like the health care they have will be able to keep it but that those who don’t and those without insurance should have the choice of a public option.
Describing what the plan would look like, a spokesman for Whitehouse said recently, “The Community Health Insurance Option will be a national, not a state plan and it will be run by the Department of Health and Human Services. It will offer benefits as good as those offered by private insurance, if not better.”
One concern has been whether doctors and hospitals would choose not to participate in such a plan.
“The department will negotiate payment amounts to encourage doctors and hospitals to participate,” the spokesman said.
Another concern has been how the poor who cannot afford any insurance, would be able to participate.
In a jointly written article that appeared in the Huffington Post recently the senators wrote that “individuals who need financial help purchasing coverage will receive it.”
The senators also envision a structure that will promote democratic input from consumers. “Local advisory councils will assure the plan receives community input,” they said.
“Your health insurer should be your advocate – not your adversary, and the public option will be that advocate. It will fight for you, not with you, to get you the best possible care with the least possible hassle. It will drive the private insurers back onto the straight and narrow,” Brown and Whitehouse wrote.
Millions have had the experience of having insurance companies deny care because of pre-existing conditions or even because they haven’t followed a particular required set of instructions.
“Your health insurer should never deny you coverage because you’ve had a heart condition. Your insurer should never carve out your diabetes from your coverage. Your insurer should never deny payment for the MRI they didn’t pre-authorize because in the haze of your breast cancer diagnosis, you hadn’t read the fine print,” the senators said.
The senators are also taking on the expensive advertising drive that the insurance companies have mounted against the public option.
“They are trying to scare you into thinking our plan will put the government between you and your doctor, and ration your care. The truth is just the opposite. Private insurance rations care by ability to pay – and puts insurance company bureaucrats between you and your doctor. Our plan rejects this failed system.”