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A Public Option Must Be Part of Health Care Plan

“One of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality is a public option that will force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest. I look forward to a product that achieves these important goals.—These are the words of our President Barack Obama, spoken this week. And our leader here in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), is of the same mind: Real health care requires a public option.We could not agree more.[IMGCAP(1)]We are encouraged that amid the activity of foreign assignments, the president found it requisite to reiterate his pledge for a public plan. The American public feels the same way. Seventy-six percent of them, in fact, support a robust public health insurance plan that is available to everyone. And no wonder, our current system is broken in four fundamental ways.First, health care is not affordable for American families. Premiums have doubled over the past nine years, a rate three times faster than wage increases. Skyrocketing health care costs continue to crush the pocketbooks of our families and businesses. A daunting 62 percent of U.S. bankruptcies in 2007 were due to medical costs, compared with 46 percent in 2001. These percentages are projected to rise, as the recession rolls on and national unemployment inches ever closer to 10 percent. A public option would provide a critical safety net to carry us through the recession.Second, our system is inefficient, failing to provide coverage to 47 million people, including 8 million children. This further drives up health care costs. The uninsured are less likely to visit the doctor regularly and less likely to receive quality primary care and preventive services. As a result, the uninsured have a 25 percent higher mortality risk and higher rates of death from preventable illness than the insured. A public option would increase access to primary and preventive care, which in the long run would lower costs.Third, high-quality care eludes many ethnic and racial minorities. In diverse communities — be they Asian, Hispanic, African diaspora, or Native American — cultural and language barriers pose a challenge to communicating and ultimately providing care. Private providers and insurers have failed to meet the needs of these underserved communities. The lack of medical interpreters, for example, often leads to devastating results, including misdiagnosis or mistreatment. A public option, sensitive to diverse populations, would ameliorate these glaring oversights.Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, the health care industry needs a competitive push. Under the public plan, private insurance companies would be forced to compete with an affordable, high-quality option. We would expand choice in the health insurance market, while allowing families to keep the health care plans they like. By increasing choice and competition, we would lower costs.In our roles as chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, we are working intimately with our colleagues in the Congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses to ensure that the needs of the most underserved and vulnerable populations in our country are met. Collectively, all four caucuses comprise 112 votes in the House of Representatives — an important fact given that we stand united in our support of a robust public health insurance option.While the two of us are supporters of a single-payer approach, we acknowledge the current realities of health care reform and heartily endorse Obama’s commitment to a public option. Furthermore, we trust that business — specifically the hospitals among which the president is encouraging consensus this week — will do what is right for the American people. Because we will. That is why we stand with the majority of the American people, an overwhelming 76 percent of which support a robust public option available to all. America can do better. And Americans deserve better.Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) is chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) is co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.