Public Health Plans Should Compete With Private Policies

health_insurance.jpgDuring Monday’s “Prepare For Launch: Health Reform Summit 2008,” Jeanne Lambrew, a senior fellow at The Center For American Progress, underscored the importance of government health care programs.

While conservatives often demonize government-funded health care as “socialize[d] medicine,” Lambrew pointed out that government programs “insure over one-fourth of the population and finance 45 percent of the health system“:

Over the years, a number of public programs have emerged to fill certain cracks in the system. Altogether, these programs insure over one-fourth of the population and finance 45 percent of the health system, including the safety net programs that directly pay for services for vulnerable populations.

Government programs pick-up where private insurers leave off, providing insurance for the sickest Americans. Lambrew noted that “public programs serve at least four functions”:

– Make health insurance affordable for low-income Americans

– Insure a disproportionated percent of Americans with disabilities or severe health problems

– Help private insurers manage risk by taking on the sickest and costliest patients

– Offer an alternative to private insurance

Enrollees of government programs are satisfied with the cost and quality of coverage. In fact, “research has shown that Medicare has performed as well as private insurance on costs and has exceeded it on satisfaction.” Thus, if public programs can successfully compete with private policies, “the question might be best directed toward opponents:”

Why should policymakers give private insurers the exclusive right to cover Americans? If private insurers can better meet our goals for the health system, why object to a level competition with public plans?