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Outside voices: Public option gets a boost

Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 17: Clever, Sen. Max Baucus.

The Montana Democrat who heads the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday breathed new life into the growing calls to create a government-run competitor to private health insurers.

How so? Baucus did it by omitting the so-called public option from his own reform proposal.

His plan clearly fails to measure up on the key issue of driving down health costs, experts said. So that should strengthen the case even more for a Medicare-like health plan for the under-65 uninsured who cannot find affordable private coverage.

What’s more, there’s a real question as to whether the Baucus plan to put health coverage within reach of more than 30 million uninsured Americans would put them in a Catch-22 situation.

While the plan includes a sensible mandate for almost everyone to obtain coverage, and offers subsidies to families earning up to three times the poverty rate, the cost of that insurance still could be beyond the reach of many. Fellow committee member Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., refused to support the Baucus plan on just those grounds.

Both issues point to the need for a public option, which remains the best hope to tame health care costs that continue to gallop far ahead of inflation.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 17: In 1999, it cost about $5,800 to buy employer-provided family health insurance coverage. If premiums had increased at the same rate as inflation, that same policy today would cost $7,239.

Instead, it costs $13,375. That’s an increase of 131 percent – more than five times the overall rate of inflation.

Companies don’t provide health benefits out of the goodness of their hearts. They do it to attract the best workers and because healthy employees with healthy families are more productive.

But when insurance costs grow at five times the rate of inflation, it’s worth wondering how much longer they can afford to do it. That question should send shivers down workers’ spines.

Since the early 1990s, the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation has been surveying U.S. businesses about the cost of health benefits offered to employees. Its latest survey, released this week, demonstrates why health reform is so urgent.

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