Letter to the Senators

President Obama sent a letter to Senators Kennedy and Baucus today reaffirming his strong support for giving everyone the choice of a public health insurance plan (emphasis mine):

The plans you are discussing embody my core belief that Americans should have better choices for health insurance, building on the principle that if they like the coverage they have now, they can keep it, while seeing their costs lowered as our reforms take hold. But for those who don’t have such options, I agree that we should create a health insurance exchange — a market where Americans can one-stop shop for a health care plan, compare benefits and prices, and choose the plan that’s best for them, in the same way that Members of Congress and their families can. None of these plans should deny coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition, and all of these plans should include an affordable basic benefit package that includes prevention, and protection against catastrophic costs. I strongly believe that Americans should have the choice of a public health insurance option operating alongside private plans. This will give them a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep insurance companies honest.

Here’s the HCAN response to the letter:

“We are thrilled to see President Obama’s strong, unambiguous commitment to reform that includes the choice of keeping private health insurance or joining a new public health insurance option. The choice of a new public health insurance plan is the only way to control costs, guarantee coverage, ensure quality and transparency, and set a benchmark by which patients will know whether their private health insurance is truly giving them what they’re paying for.

There is tremendous unity among President Obama, key committee leadership in both the House and the Senate, the broad coalition represented by Health Care for America Now, and the American people for reform based on the choice of private or public health insurance plans. It is now clearer than ever that this choice will be a fundamental part of the reform sent to the President’s desk this year.

Some Members of Congress have discussed the possibility of creating a public health insurance plan “trigger,” suggesting the public health insurance option can wait. It cannot. The choice of a public health insurance plan must be part of comprehensive reform from the very beginning.”

Laura at HuffPo just posted a write about progressives forcing Obama’s hand. I disagree wholeheartedly with the premise of the article, but she does spend some time talking about the ridiculous public health insurance plan “trigger” proposal, the “trigger” in Medicare Part D, and why the latter is an excellent argument against the former. (She quotes me too, but that’s besides the point):

Simply including the words “public option” may not be enough. One alleged compromise put forth by Republicans and some centrist Democrats to scuttle a public plan option, is the notion of a trigger that would mandate its implementation only if the private market fails to meet a certain set of criteria. This model would resemble the Medicare Part D option, which conservatives tout as evidence that there is no need for a public option because the trigger for Medicare Part D has yet to be pulled. However, upon closer inspection, the patients themselves have no control over the criteria that would lead to pulling the trigger if their needs are not met, ensuring that the option of a public plan was never really a viable one, say some health care experts.

“The trigger [under Medicare Part D] would come into play in any county where there weren’t at least two private drug plans, but that has never come close to happening. It has nothing to do with containing costs or guaranteeing quality or access or anything that works for patients and consumers,” said Jacki Schechner of Healthcare for America NOW.


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