The Public Option Will Leave You Without Options

The prescription is being written for the poison pill that could kill the ailing health care market, a potentially irreversible leap towards full government control.

What’s worse, the narrative has already begun that a “public option” is indeed a desirable option for the public, and there are polls to back that up. A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows a stunning 70 percent of Americans supporting a “public health insurance option to compete … in the Affordable Care Act Marketplaces.”

We’ve been through this drill before; in 2009 a series of similar polls came out in advance of the big fight over what would become Obamacare. Famed prognosticator Nate Silver did an analysis of those polls back then, noting that the wording and details of those polls massively changed the outcomes. Similarly, Kaiser notes in this 2016 that simply changing the question to a “government-administered public health insurance option” dropped support to 54 percent, and that providing details on how the plans might work caused massive swings in support or opposition.

In other words, most of the public doesn’t have a firm understanding of how a public option would work. It’s up to lovers of free markets to lay out the case for why such a plan would be a terrible, awful idea that only serves one purpose: to lay the foundation for transition to a fully socialized, government health care system.

So here’s the short version of why a public pption doesn’t work like progressives say it does, and why it’s a truly ominous threat to our freedom to choose.

First, what supporters claim: the government gives consumers an option to buy a fully government-administered insurance plan (kind of like Medicare) in addition to what you can buy from private companies. This provides “competition” (see, friendly free-market word!) with those evil, nasty insurers who are just out to profit from your maladies. Having a nice, publicly owned alternative (translation: funded by money stolen from you) will make the individual insurance markets fairer in providing coverage for all.

Now, real life: faced with the competition from government plans that don’t have to worry if they take a loss, private companies gradually lose customers to the public option until they finally decide to just pull out of the marketplace all together. For most customers, the public option becomes the only option. Obamacare was set up to accelerate that process by making it impossible for private companies to actually compete, strictly regulating tight boundaries for what companies can charge, what they can spend on service and overhead, and what every plan must cover.

Fair and open competition between the government and the private market was always a fiction. The government handicapped the whole game in its favor from the start.

Obamacare was initially written with a public option, and was always intended to funnel people to it. Except now, conveniently, instead of always being there to drive protesting insurers out of the market more slowly, the public option can be dropped in as an affordable “savior” for people who have watched their choices in the private market dwindle.

And as it turns out, much of the work of the public option has already been done for it. In 60 percent of American counties, consumers only have one or two different insurance companies to choose inform in the Obamacare exchanges.

What’s so bad about government-controlled insurance? Anyone who has had Medicaid, Medicare, or TriCare can tell you — your choices are strictly limited, and the service is frequently lousy. And if you don’t like it, you can’t go shopping for an alternative, because there isn’t one. We’re being forced into an ever tightening box of mediocre government health care, where all the choices of what care you’re allowed to receive, what doctors you can see, what treatments you can try, are defined by government bureaucrats you’ll never meet.

Not that the private market before Obamacare was great, because it wasn’t a free market either. The government has spent the past century injecting itself into health care at every possible level, regulating and mandating the market to such an extent that almost everyone purchases health care through an expensive, un-transferrable, third-party payment plan.

But the cure for the current, beleaguered health care system that Obamacare is rapidly devouring is to explore new options, create real competition, let human creativity work in mutually beneficial exchanges through free markets.

Instead, we’re going to be told unceasingly by (mostly) Democrat politicians for the next several years that the only option left to us — in a market that has supposedly failed — is for the government to step in and provide a public “option”.

If such a plan were allowed to pass and become entrenched, returning to anything like a patient-centered, market-based model for health care will be difficult if not impossible.

What you’ll be missing out on, if the government is granted this control, is innovation, competition for your business, choice, and transparent prices for your care. Most importantly, you’ll be missing attentive care that focuses on the best outcomes for you rather than checking boxes on government forms and meeting actuarial tables.

This article originally appeared on Conservative Review.

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Josh Withrow

Josh Withrow is the former Director of Public Policy at Free the People. He transitioned from studying medieval history to modern policy, only to find nothing has changed.

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