A Public Option

We are being fed attack ads against a public option for health care. Conservatives never tire of telling us how inefficient government is and how wonderful private business is.

Now that claim beggars the imagination. All the firms that fail must be because they were so good? And all the firms that get stopped from putting dangerous things in their products must really be wonderful public spirited companies trying to weed the population of the vulnerable by selling them dangerous products. I hope no one mistakes my sarcasm. All the regulations that people complain about are there because some businesses were doing things they had to be stopped from doing. So spare me the bull.

But if, like the woman who bizarrely asked President Obama not to let government run Medicare, these folks are absolutely convinced that government can’t do anything right, then let those wonderful private firms compete. Surely they will drive the government program out of business.

Of course the conservatives are claiming the reverse – they claim that government is so bad, so inefficient, that a public option run by the government would drive all the private plans out of business. Does anyone else get the contradiction? Government is incapable of doing anything right and loses by a country mile to private business, but government is so efficient that it will drive private business out of the market if they are allowed to compete. Hmmm.

But logical consistency is not big in conservative thinking. It is better to think about health care reform and the opposition to the public option in terms of who thinks they will lose out rather than in terms of arguments about policy. We’re talking about insurance and pharmaceutical companies who want to skim what they can off of our tragedies. Both kinds of companies were originally established for useful purposes. But with time they found more and more ways to squeeze the rest of us. A public option might force them to pay some attention to the public interest. Now wouldn’t that be a shame.

Some years ago, one of my teachers at law school, Guido Calabresi, later dean of the Yale Law School and now a Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals, was working on the development of the no fault accident insurance system. In those days to collect any money if someone crashed into your car, you had to prove they were at fault. That took years and was very expensive. What he demonstrated was that arguing about who caused the accident took a large share of the funds that should have helped the victim get back on his or her feet. There were lots of people with a stake in that old system. But we had the courage to change it, to everyone’s benefit. We didn’t stand on our high horses shouting that the American common law system was the best in the world and no one should dare change it. We acted as Americans should, as inventive and resourceful people, and we changed it.

We have to do that now. Real Americans don’t plant their feet firmly in the mud. Real Americans are creative and resourceful. Real Americans will change the health care system so that everyone gets better care than what we have been getting. Oh, and did you hear, our doctors, who deal with Medicare and know better than anyone else what dealing with government run health care is like, say they prefer a public option.

— Recorded for broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, September 15, 2009.


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