By Michael Tewfik of Portland, Oregon. Michael is an internal medicine physician.
In the last week, 23 senators have signed a letter to bring back the public option through the budget reconciliation process. As an internal medicine doctor here in Portland, Oregon, this does not surprise me. The public option is the only long term health care option that makes sense.
This last January, most of us felt the sting of higher co-pays for appointments, medication costs and general private insurance premiums. As a primary care provider, I'm also seeing clinic visits drop across the board 10-20 percent. Our hospitals here in Portland have also seen a substantial decrease in elective procedures and general hospital admissions. The trajectory of health care costs is clear.
The public option is not just about providing competition for private health insurance providers. It is about providing health care to improve health, and not bolster quarterly profit reports. The big misconception about private insurers is that they make their profits from a percentage of the premiums. That couldn't be farther from the truth. They make their money by taking in premiums and then leveraging that money to invest across global markets and pay out health care expenses as far out in the future as possible. Time, in their case, is more money.
A public option seeks a different target, providing the highest quality of health care at the lowest cost to both the the system and the consumer. A public option system would leverage National Health Care guidelines based on clinical benefit and global economic costs to structure benefit plans.
Don't kid yourself if you think this if this kind of decision-making is happening with private insurers. Yes, private insurers follow National Health Care guidelines, except the financial goal is not the health of the overall system, but the individual insurers' bottom lines. The public option could also leverage premiums to make money, except the money would go back into the system and not to shareholders.
One unsubstantiated fear of the public option is that you'll lose the chance to pick your doctor. And yet last month I lost a chunk of patients who wanted to keep seeing me, but couldn't because their company switched insurers and they now had different "approved" providers. Seems like these patients--and tens of thousands like them in Portland--have already lost their choice of doctors.
What the twenty senators see is the writing on the wall. Americans are fed up sacrificing their health as a profit vehicle for multi-national companies. When we as Americans fear for our lives and the lives of our family members because we may or already have lost our health insurance, we can't be creative and help drive this economy forward. The public option is our chance to drive this democracy's economic future into the twenty-first century. The real question is how long it will take to realize it.