Mainers know failure of government health care

Posted Dec. 02, 2009, at 5:38 p.m.

An Oct. 30 Bangor Daily News editorial touted the potential benefits of a “government-run public health insurance option” (the public option) as an integral part of health care reform. This is a surprising opinion coming from a Maine newspaper. People who live here, especially journalists, should know better than anyone just how ineffective government health insurance can be.

Mainers have had plenty of experience with government-run health care, all of it bad. Our public option, DirigoChoice, took effect four years ago, promising by 2009 to provide coverage for all of the estimated 128,000 uninsured Maine residents. We’re now in the final month of that target year and those targets are nowhere near being reached.

Instead, Maine taxpayers have shelled out $155 million to subsidize this costly blunder, even as enrollees have seen their benefits slashed and their premiums rise 74 percent. To prop up the still insolvent Dirigo, the Legislature recently passed a tax increase on health care claims that will cost the average Maine family about $400 more each year.

What have we received in return? Practically nothing. Just 9,600 people are enrolled in the program today and 6,200 of them already had private insurance to begin with. Only 3,400 Mainers have been moved from the roles of the uninsured, a mere 3 percent of what was promised. It would have been more affordable and effec-tive to simply write them a check so they can buy their own private insurance plan.

That’s why it’s so baffling that the Bangor Daily News would support duplicating this strategy at the national level. If a public option plan costs Maine this much for such poor results, imagine the price tag a Dirigo-style program would have at the national level.

Perhaps even more concerning, the public option puts us on a slippery slope to government-run health care that risks the medical care American families expect and deserve.

No matter how often public option supporters try to downplay the long-term effects of this plan, there’s no question putting government into the health care business will ultimately lead to its complete takeover of the entire health care system. Private plans simply cannot compete with a government option that has an unlimited amount of resources funded by our own tax dollars. Eventually, it will be bureaucrats and political appointees making our health care decisions instead of our family doctors.

Government health care means fewer choices, longer lines for treatment and reduced access to cutting-edge advances in medicine. In other words, U.S. health care would come to imitate systems in countries like Canada and Great Britain, where patients wait months to see specialists, bureaucratic planning boards make care deci-sions and innovative treatments lag far behind those available here.

Americans don’t want that. We want health care reform that preserves high-quality care while responsibly addressing problems like high cost and junk lawsuits. We want new approaches that improve on what we have instead of a public option overhaul that makes American health care even worse.

There are some excellent reform plans out there. These include strategies that focus on tort reform to limit costly and exploitative lawsuits, and plans to do away with competition-strangling laws that prevent insurance companies from selling across state lines. But whatever we do, we must avoid the public option, and all the potential problems that come with it. The public option is a plan Americans cannot afford.

Joel Allumbaugh is the CEO of National Worksite Benefit Group in Hallowell and president of the Maine Association of Health Underwriters. He can be reached at joel@nwbgroup.com.

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