Sunday, September 06, 2009

Obama's "Public Option"

The public option portion of U.S. President Barack Obama's health reform plan is key to the promises made by Obama during his election campaign. The president promised "universal healthcare," the proper definition of which was something the candidates often sparred over. The public option is the component of the health care program that provides something that can be considered relatively "universal."

The public option is brought on international comparisons -- first with Canada and more recently with the NHS public system in the United Kingdom. Conservatives have used the term "socialist" or "socialized" to describe these systems with the obvious intent of stirring up old Cold War sentiments.

Will Obama keep his promise?

Obviously Obama cannot force legislators to vote one way or another. However, there are many progressives who believe the president should stand firm on the public option even if it means risking losing out in the end.

During the campaign, Obama promised:

  • Universal healthcare, which is now represented by the public option
  • A health care option available to everyone that would be comparable to that he and other senators enjoyed in Congress.

Now, one of the options offered has been to use non-profit co-ops instead of a government-run insurance system. Such little information has been released on this idea that it's difficult to tell whether it could actually be considered "universal." Unless the co-ops were forced to accept everyone, then it cannot be considered universal. Also, whether the government would be able to maintain high quality using non-profit organizations is also a big question. It might be more cost-effective in the end run to use a government-run public option.

The lack of universal heathcare is one of the factors driving medical costs in the United States through the roof. Uninsured people are using expensive emergency rooms services currently as their healthcare "option." Low quality insurance is also leading to a large and rapidly expanding population of underinsured people who are going bankrupt in droves as they are unable to pay for their medical bills. A public option would help address these important issues that are weighting down on an already badly-bruised economic system.

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