WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. John Kline and other Republicans spoke out fiercely today against the inclusion of a public option in any health-care reform legislation, saying that it could drive private insurers out of business and would essentially create a single-payer system — something they contend would lead to limited care and a bureaucratic mess.
“If Democrats are serious about including a so-called government-run ‘option’ in their plan — and if a government-run ‘option’ is designed to crowd out the private sector — then the reality is that we are only a few steps away from a single payer system,” said Kline at a House Education Subcommittee hearing today on the benefits and risks of a single-payer health-care option.
Kline, who is ranking member of the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions, added that “creating a one-size-fits-all health care system modeled on Medicare is a recipe for disaster.”
His comments came on the heels of recently unveiled health-care reform proposals in the House and Senate, which include public options, and criticism from single-payer proponents that their plan has not been fully considered.
“There is some notion that a universal single-payer plan is off the table,” said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., a leading supporter of a single-payer system who testified today before the subcommittee. “Well that raises a very important question. If you take the most popular health care reform measure and take it off the table, heaven knows what you are left with?”
One ABCNews/Wasthingon Post poll showed that Americans would prefer a universal health insurance program over the current employer-based system by 62 to 32 percent. A May survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & Press found that 86 percent of Americans agree that “government needs to do more to make healthcare affordable and accessible.” The same study, however, found that nearly half of Americans, or 46 percent, “say they are concerned about government becoming too involved in health care.”
“Attempting to reconcile the dual imperatives of universal coverage and cost control through alternative methods besides single payer is an exercise in futility,” said panelist Dr. Walter Tsou, a national board advisor for the Physicians for a National Health Program. “Single-payer is the only reform that can control health care costs. It does so by cutting insurance firms’ profits, streamlining the massive administrative apparatus, negotiating fee schedules with physicians, and putting hospitals on predictable global budgets.”
‘Government wears it’
But panelist Dr. David Gratzer, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, pointed to potential problems that he had witnessed in Canada’s single-payer model, which strives to cover everyone and is less expensive than the U.S. system.
“The limits of a single-payer insurance are a consequence of a common political reality,” Gratzer said in a prepared statement. “If government funds it, government wears it.”
Gratzer mentioned the potential for longer waiting periods and reduced access to cutting-edge medicines and technology as possible pitfalls.
That said, Democratic leaders, including President Obama, have indicated that a single-payer system is not in the cards right now. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who chairs the Finance Committee, recently said that he was not open to the idea.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said this week on C-SPAN that Baucus wouldn’t be open to a single-payer plan “in a million years.”
In the House, the Blue Dog Coalition has said that they want strict limits on any government-run insurance option. After Tuesday’s unveiling, leaders of the group said they still had many questions.
“I’m against the single payer plan,” said Blue Dog Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat, on Wednesday. “There’s no chance that it’s going to pass.”
The proposals in both chambers are broadly similar and are aimed at expanding coverage to about 46 million uninsured Americans, reducing costs and giving patients the option to choose between private plans and a public option. The House version (PDF) is a four-page outline, while the Senate version is a full 615-page bill. (PDF)
While it is difficult to compare the two versions because the House version is so incomplete, both plans seek to provide low-income subsidy programs, expand Medicare and limit factors that insurance companies can use to restrict availability, such as pre-existing conditions. The Senate is expected to markup versions of its bill this month. The House is not expected to take up its version until July.
Still, Republicans like Kline and Rep. Michele Bachmann remained unconvinced Wednesday that the public option proposals were anything more than a short stop on the way to a single-payer system.
“I don’t like that [the public plan] at all,” said Kline. “Because the way I look at it is down the road it will push us very quickly into a single-payer plan.”
Bachmann has introduced her own health-care bill, which would essentially provide tax deductibility for individuals’ medical expenses.
“They’re trying to sell the illusion that the public plan will simply compete with private insurers,” said Bachmann in a statement. “But when they say public-option, they are sowing the seeds for what will ultimately become a fully government-run program.”
Cynthia Dizikes covers Minnesota’s congressional delegation and reports on issues and developments in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at cdizikes[at]minnpost[dot]com.