This morning on C-Span, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) laid out his criticism of the proposed public insurance option in Obama’s health reform plan. Like other opponents of reform, Coburn repeated the empty Frank Luntz-engineered talking points that claim “bureaucrats” will be making health decisions. In doing so, Coburn derided the Veterans Health Administration, a program that boasts bipartisan support and has provided American veterans with some of the best health care in the world:
COBURN: If you look at VA even though VA is improving, it’s still not up to the level of health care in the rest of the country. The idea that a bureaucrat somewhere will make decisions about health care and coverage I think is untenable to most Americans. […] Why be critical of a government run plan, insurance plan? And I’m not alone on this, the fact is, is the government hasn’t proven itself responsible in any health care program that is run so far.
Coburn is quick to disparage the VHA as “untenable to most Americans” and not “up to the level of health care in the rest of the country.” However, the program has provided quality care to millions of sick and injured veterans since its inception:
– An Annals of Internal Medicine study that compared veterans health facilities with commercial managed-care systems in their treatment of diabetes patients found in seven out of seven measures of quality, the VA provided better care.
— The National Committee for Quality Assurance ranked VHA hospitals over non-VHA hospitals like Johns Hopkins, the Mayo Clinic and Massachusetts General.
— A recent study by the RAND corporation found that “VA patients were more likely to receive recommended care” and “received consistently better care across the board, including screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow up.”
Not only does the VHA provide better quality coverage, but it spends less per patient than other health systems despite having to care for “older, sicker, poorer, and patients more prone to mental illness, homelessness and substance abuse than the population as a whole.”
Though Coburn claims to be a proponent of competition in the health care market, his opposition to a public plan would allow private health insurance companies — who are the largest single industry contributing to Coburn’s campaign coffers — to continue to monopolize the system. “Creating a government-administered health insurance option is a totally different animal from creating a government-run health provider system,” notes Matt Yglesias on Coburn’s misrepresentation of the public option.
A public plan would be a federally backed insurance program that anyone could opt into if they do not have health insurance or if they are not satisfied with their current private health insurance plan. The plan would promote meaningful choice and would create a publicly accountable innovation leader.