Becerra on a public health coverage option…

The Jon Stewart-Jim Cramer interview wasn’t the only smackdown this week. Here’s California Representative Xavier Becerra, who is a member of the House leadership, and represents part of downtown Los Angeles (including Health Access’ LA office), on the need for a choice of a public health coverage option:

There’s been a lot of back-and-forth at the national level about a public health coverage option as part of health reform.

Several Republican Senators wrote a letter to President Obama stating their willingness to participate in health reform discussion, but immediately put a line in the sand about “forcing free market plans to compete against these government-run programs.” My first question is whether these Senators are willing to support other tough but necessary elements of health reform, from raising financing to regulating insurers.

But I also wonder why the heavy pushback on the concept. In California, we have lots of public health insurers at the county level, from Alameda Alliance for Health, to LA Care. The health reform negotiated between Governor Schwarzenegger and Speaker Nunez included a potential expansion of these existing entities to become a viable competitor. At the federal level, the opportunity exists for a more robust public health insurance competitor, but the concept isn’t new.

As Rep. Becerra says in the video: veterans, seniors, and others have such a choice of public and private plans now.

Rep. Becerra is also right about how the public sector takes a lot of risk that would otherwise fall on the private insurers. Insurers undertake massive efforts to avoid risk, and yet they still whine in public policy forums about “adverse selection.” Yet private insurers let the public sector take on the populations most at risk of getting sick: seniors, people with disabilities, and very low-income families. So to the extent that “adverse selection” exists, it is limited to within healthier part of the population.

We are glad that Rep. Becerra will have an important voice in this debate, to speak up about the need for a public health insurance option, and other issues of import to California consumers.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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