In Vermont, there are many others like me who think the best way to solve the health care crisis (and save $400 billion a year in the process) would be to replace private insurance companies with a single-payer Medicare-for-all system. Unfortunately, there are not many in the United States Senate who agree.
Given that political reality, I am a strong advocate for what is called a "public option" that gives consumers a choice. Those who like their private insurance companies could keep them. Those who prefer a public insurance plan like Medicare could choose that option.
A public option is the one mechanism we have left to keep the private insurance companies honest and provide at least some cost containment. President Obama campaigned for that. Once in office, he reasserted that "any plan I sign must include an insurance exchange, including a public option to increase competition and keep insurance companies honest."
I take the president at his word. I am bothered by statements form some people surrounding him who suggest that we should go forward without that option.
From a political perspective, what we need to do is precisely what Obama did during his very brilliant campaign, and that is rally tens of millions of people to stand up and fight for a universal, comprehensive and cost effective health care system. In my view, health care is the civil rights issue of our time. It is not acceptable that the United States remains the only industrialized country that does not provide health care as a right of citizenship, that 18,000 Americans die every single years because they get to the doctor too late, that 46 million have no health insurance and even more an under-insured, and that one million people this year are going to go bankrupt because of medically-related costs. We can do better than that. We must do better than that.
The truth of the matter is that there are virtually no Republicans in the Senate who are serious about health care reform. That's sad and pathetic, but that is the simple reality. Even worse, Republicans are not only opposing serious health care reform but they are grossly distorting what is in the current bills being considered. They are stalling and stalling and very effectively playing the obstructionist role.
While some members of the Democratic caucus may end up voting against a strong health care reform bill, I would hope and expect that every member of the caucus is prepared to stand united in opposition to Republican obstructionism and never-ending filibusters
Here is my bottom line: The system is disintegrating. We spend almost twice as much on health care as any other country. Our health outcomes are worse. The vast majority of people want a public option - among other reforms.
Now is the time for action!
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