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Why a Public Health Insurance Option Is Essential

David Balto argues in Health Affairs that incremental reforms without a public option will be smothered by health insurers with decades of experience manipulating the market.

The biggest flashpoint in the ongoing debate over the future of the U.S. health system is whether Congress should change the balance of power that now favors the private health insurance industry. Opponents of the idea argue that a public health insurance plan competing with private insurers would lead to inferior health care, harm providers, and drive the multibillion dollar for-profit health plans out of the market. Fears of Armageddon are without merit and inconsistent with reality.

The U.S. has a health care crisis created by the private insurance companies that some are so worried about protecting. Health care costs are out of control, threatening the viability of American businesses and the hopes of millions of American families. More than 47 million Americans are uninsured, and according to Consumer Reports, as many as 70 million more have insurance that doesn’t really protect them. In the past six years alone, health insurance premiums have increased by more than 87 percent, rising four times faster than the average American’s wages, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report. American families in the lowest income group spend 20 percent of household income on health insurance. Health care costs are a substantial cause of three of five personal bankruptcies.

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