Welch: Opponents are mischaracterizing ‘public plan’ in health care reform

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(Host) Congressman Peter Welch says it’s critical to include a new "public plan" in a proposed health care reform bill.

Welch says some opponents, including Governor Jim Douglas, may be deliberately mischaracterizing the plan to discourage people from supporting it.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) As it’s currently written, the health care reform legislation offers consumers a choice.  They can stay with their existing private insurance policies or they can sign up for a new public plan.

Opponents of the bill argue that the public option will undermine the private insurance market. They think this will happen, in part, because the federal government will cut payments to health care providers as a way to keep premiums lower for the public plan.   

It’s a practice that occurs now in both the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, Welch rejected this argument. He says payments to health care providers will be the same under the public and private plans. 

But he says the public plan will be able to offer cheaper premiums because its administrative costs will be lower and because there are no shareholders to report to:

(Welch) "So that is an advantage frankly that is not about not creating a level playing field it’s about different incentives. So if the insurance companies are competing in effect with a public plan not because taxpayers are giving favorable rate treatment but because there’s a different model that’s going to help keep them honest, it’s going to promote some innovation on the insurance side."

(Kinzel) Earlier this week, Governor Jim Douglas urged Republican senators to oppose the public plan initiative because he thinks it represents a government take over of health care:

(Douglas) "I don’t think the federal government ought to be in the health care business. I don’t think they should run an insurance company, especially because it would likely crowd out private insurance options that are now available."

(Kinzel) But Welch says the governor and other opponents are distorting the concept of what a public plan actually represents:

(Welch) "It’s a misnomer. Often times people – and I think the governor may be doing this here – say that a public plan is "government" run. That means it’s a government doctor or a government hospital. No one’s talking about that. Medicare is "a public plan" but if you’re a senior you pick your doctor, you pick your hospital. Medicaid is a public plan – you pick your doctor you pick your hospital…so we would maintain choice. In fact, we’d expand choice."

(Kinzel) Welch says he’d prefer to see Congress implement a single payer health care system but he says there aren’t nearly enough votes in the House and the Senate to pass the bill at this time.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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