Saturday, October 17, 2009

Task 3: Describe health care reform in this context (part B)

What does health care reform currently look like?

Though the reform measures are not yet finalized and it is still uncertain what they will look like when all is said and done, it is reasonably safe to assume the following: 1) private insurance will still play a large role; a single-payer government-run system is highly unlikely, 2) insurance companies will no longer be allowed to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, 3) government will subsidize the cost of insurance for those who cannot afford to pay for it themselves, 4) increased regulation of private insurance companies will be enacted to attempt to control for costs, both to the government and to the insured, and, 5) health insurance will become mandatory for individuals, though there is disagreement as to how enforceable this 'individual mandate' will be.

What is less certain but is a key point of contention is the 'public option.' The public option has been attacked as 'socialism' by conservatives, been defended avidly by progressives, and is a point of considerable deliberation (and re-election anxiety) for centrists. The basic idea of the public option is that the federal government will develop and offer a public health insurance plan that people can opt to buy into instead of buying into a private plan. The primary intention will be to regulate what insurance companies can charge by competing with them on the market. Critics charge that the public option would eventually put private insurers out of business, as, subsidized by tax-payer's money, it will have the capacity to charge much less than private insurers. The president, however, has stated explicitly that, “like any private insurance company, the public insurance option would have to be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums it collects.” Proponents contend that the public option is the only way to effectively regulate costs in the industry and is essential if individuals are to be mandated to carry health insurance.

The basic idea of the individual mandate is that Americans will be required to carry health insurance much as drivers are required to have car insurance (Fuhrman, 2002). Health costs will theoretically drop as a result. Currently, the costs of health care for the uninsured (as they seek care in Emergency rooms and other sources of free, walk-in care) are covered by revenues gleaned from the insured; that is, health insurance premiums are inflated by insurance companies covering costs associated with the care of the uninsured. It is argued by proponents of the public option that mandated health insurance will give the insurance companies far too much power to reap un-checked profits if there is not a public plan on offer as an alternative. No one, after all, will be able to opt out of insurance, so without a public option an individual will have to pay whatever the insurance companies are charging.

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