Over the next few weeks the United States House of Representatives will begin consideration of landmark legislation designed to overhaul America's broken health care system. Approximately 50 million Americans, or 20% of Oklahomans, do not have health insurance. It is a statistic that Washington has tried to address for decades.
There have been numerous ideas put forward on how to bridge this gap and lower the cost of coverage, but little bi-partisan consensus has been reached. The primary point of contention between the drafters of the current health care reform bill and its critics has been the viability of a "public option," or government-run insurance plan.
The primary reason the public option has become the focal point of debate is the potential financial ramifications facing the health insurance industry. There is a belief among some members of Congress that a "public plan" will crowd-out private insurance, stifle reimbursement payments to doctors, and lead America slowly down the road to single payer health care.
I will admit that there is a very real potential for the health insurance industry to lose significant market share if a public option is part of any health care reform package.
But lost among those concerns is the frustration that many Americans feel toward our current health insurance system. Every year millions of citizens and thousands of small business owners feel exploited and taken advantage of by the health insurance industry. Whether it is denied claims or double-digit rate increases, many Americans feel the time is now for the federal government to step-in and give our citizens another option.
My view on a public plan is mixed. I am ardently opposed to single payer health care. I believe that America's free market health care system is the primary reason our country has the best specialized medical care in the world. Thousands of foreigners travel to the United States every year to get medical treatment at prestigious facilities like the Mayo Clinic, St. Jude Children's Hospital, and the University of Oklahoma Medical Center.
But the free market health insurance system has significant gaps - many of which have festered for decades.
On the preventive side, a significant number of insurance plans provide little to no pre-deductible coverage for preventive tests like colonoscopies and extensive blood work, which causes thousands of insured Americans to forgo important preventive treatments that save countless lives and millions of dollars. Additionally, health insurance is virtually impossible for any citizen to obtain that has a pre-existing condition like diabetes, sleep apnea, or a previous cancer diagnosis.
Furthermore, almost all individual plans lack basic maternity coverage and usually come with medical deductibles that exceed $2,500. Add to that, the fact that the U.S. has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the developed world, and you can understand the call for immediate action.
The bells of health care reform are ringing loud and clear in Washington. Americans want action and the passage of a broad-based health care reform bill looks likely. We in Congress must cautiously move forward with health care reform, while preserving America's reputation as the world-class leader in top-end health care. Members of Congress must make certain that health care reform preserves a patient's ability to choose their doctor, allows physicians to earn the salaries they deserve, and does not stifle innovation. As the text of the legislation is released, and a thorough examination of its policy implications is conducted, I will keep an open and honest eye out for hard-working Oklahomans.