Sunday, June 28, 2009

Why Louisiana Needs Healthcare Reform

The debate on healthcare reform is intensifying in Washington and across the country. This is not a debate taking place in the abstract.

Louisiana stands to benefit greatly from reform — if the final package includes the so-called "Public Option." The public option is a proposal by President Obama to offer working-age Americans the opportunity to buy health insurance coverage similar to coverage currently available to those over 65 through Medicare.

Health insurance companies oppose this, saying that the government will ultimately drive them from the field; that they won't be able to compete. The public, according to polls, is not buying that argument. Various polls report public support for the public option to be running 70 percent and higher.

That probably has something to do with the experiences those with insurance have had with insurance companies over the years. The insurance companies have not endeared themselves to the American public through their arbitrary denials of coverage, refusal to pay claims, and general ripping off of consumers and businesses over the years.

The case for reform is becoming still more urgent in Louisiana coming on the heals of a disastrous (for providers and patients; analysts say the Governor did well) legislative session for healthcare. Medicaid is a big-ticket, unprotected item in the state's budget and the poor have no well-healed army of lobbyists to work the Capitol for them. As a result, the only opposition raised to a quarter billion dollars in Medicaid cuts were hospitals who will lose money through reduced reimbursements.

And, while the initial pain will fall squarely on the poor, ultimately those of us with health insurance will pay for these cuts, as hospitals and other providers shift costs onto those with coverage to recoup the lost dollars resulting from the state budget cuts. Oh, there is also the matter of the thousands of healthcare jobs that will be lost as a result of these cuts. But, it's all good because taxes were not raised and the Governor's presidential ambitions remain in tact.

Healthcare reform on the national level, specifically the public option, holds real promise for Louisiana. First, Louisiana has historically had a large percentage of working age people without health insurance coverage. The latest figures are that only 54 percent of employers offer any form of coverage. In many small communities across the state, local governments offer coverage for their workers but the workers can't afford to pay the premiums based on the small salaries they receive.

The public option will bring competition to insurance markets. In Louisiana, there is not much competition. Blue Cross has 61 percent of the market. Combine that with the second largest health insurer and 74 percent of the market is owned by those two companies. Introduction of the public option would immediately bring cost discipline to the health insurance markets that is sorely missing now.

You can find these and other great facts about the current state of healthcare in Louisiana here.

Any requirement to force companies to offer health insurance or to require individuals to buy health insurance coverage without the inclusion of a public option is nothing more than a gift to the very companies that have produced this financially ruinous system that is responsible for at least half of the bankruptcies in the U.S. each year.

The public option is the minimal requirement for any program worthy of the name healthcare reform.

Senator Mary Landrieu needs to know that Louisiana voters support the public option. So far, only her insurance company lobbying friends are getting through. Call her office. Remind her that you have stood with her and now you expect her to stand with you in support of the public option.

The public option will be good for us, good working Louisiana families, and good for our country.

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