WOOLSEY, STARK BRING BACK HEALTH CARE PROVISION WITH A NEW TWIST
Republicans sat on reinstating unemployment benefits to the consternation of millions of Americans on the presumption the $32 billion expenditure would only add to the nation’s bloated deficit. But Thursday, House Democrats, led by the Bay Area’s Reps. Lynn Woolsey (CA-6) and Pete Stark (CA-13), are flipping that argument on its head to gain approval of a popular Progressive provision left out of the historic health care reform bill passed last March.
Stark, along with Woolsey, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and over 128 co-sponsors, want to bring the public option back to the table. The public option would allow Americans who do not receive health insurance from their employer to purchase benefits from the federal government starting in 2014.
The bill comes on the same day the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said the public option would save $68 billion from 2014-2020 and typically cost 5-7 percent less than insurance purchased from exchanges. The cost savings may put conservative deficit-hawks on the defensive. Many Republicans were vehemently against extending unemployment insurance because of its costs. The rigid fiscal stance by Republicans in previous debate will now be challenged by Woolsey, who wrote in The Hill last week, the “robust” public option will keep insurance rates low through increased competition.
“Progressives argued at that time that the public option is the best way, short of a single-payer system, to make healthcare available and affordable to those who don’t have it and keep it affordable for those who do,” said Woolsey, “That argument still rings true, but in this time of rising concern about deficits, the robust public option offers other compelling advantages.”
Stark, who also chairs the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, says insurance companies are catering to profits rather than consumers and pointed to a recent report showing Blue Cross Blue Shield is awash in billion dollar reserves while hiking premiums into the double-digits. In February, legislators in Sacramento grilled executives from Anthem Blue Cross for attempting raise rates up to 39 percent.
“Today, Consumers Union reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield plans amassed billions in surpluses as they raised rates for millions of Americans,” said Stark. “This is a good example of why we need a public option – to create an insurance plan that competes based on delivering quality, efficient care, not on delivering profits to shareholders. The result is more competition, better coverage, and lower premiums for millions of Americans.”
At the end of last year, as the health care debated raged, Stark admitted in August many of his constituents would have rather he move even further left and back the single-payer plan. Stark, though, said in Alameda he did not feel the country is comfortable moving too quickly on public policy. “The American public doesn’t make these kind of radical changes rapidly,” he said then, but the political winds may be better now, although there may still be a dearth of will in Washington for those willing to re-fight the battles of health care reform so quickly. Woolsey told the Washington Post she can wait even as far as next year saying, “This will be there for the next Congress.”