Health Care

Kaitlyn Finley | November 17, 2020

Liberal groups seek to expand government health care, quash private insurance

Kaitlyn Finley

Earlier this year the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) and the Oklahoma Hospital Association (OHA), in conjunction with the Service Employees International Union SEIU, strongly supported and helped finance the adoption of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma. This extends Medicaid’s welfare benefits to certain lower-income able-bodied adults.

With their vocal backing of presidential nominee Joe Biden, groups like the OEA’s parent organization, the National Education Association (NEA), are seeking to build upon Obamacare’s policy failures by expanding government-subsidized health care and quashing private health insurance.

Biden has stated his health care agenda includes a “public option.” With a public option, individuals would be able to purchase a heavily subsidized public health insurance plan; Biden has stated this option would be similar to a Medicare buy-in program.

The National Education Association and other left-wing groups are seeking to expand government-subsidized health care and quash private health insurance.

Progressive health care policy analysts posit that a public insurance option will compete with private insurance and add more choice to the health insurance market, thus dramatically lowering costs. But this has not played out in reality. On a smaller scale, public option programs have not resulted in substantial savings for consumers in areas where there was a public option.

Research from the Heritage Foundation has shown that small-scale public option plans in Los Angeles County, New York City, and the Houston area have generally not lowered premiums for consumers. In some cases, the public plan was not the cheapest plan; in other cases only $2.39 separated public and commercial plans in price.

Nationalizing this type of health insurance offering and putting the weight and resources of the federal government behind it will erode choice for consumers and eventually morph into “Medicare for All.”

As Heritage Foundation health care policy expert Nina Owcharenko Schaefer explains, a national public option will quickly shift into “Medicare for All” single-payer-style coverage and will eliminate all private insurance along the way.

“Under the public option scheme, the government plan—with its regulatory power—would set its prices below its private-market competitors,” she writes. “Once the private competitors are squeezed out, the government plan would be the last and only coverage option available. Being the sole provider of health care, the government would assume full power and control over the health care dollars and decisions, leaving Americans at the mercy of the government for their health care.”

The American public would be left with the federal government being the sole payer or “single payer” for all health care in the country. As Schaefer notes, the public option scheme is “nothing less than single payer on an installment plan.”

Her projections are not baseless conjecture or Republican fearmongering. Even those on the left admit that the public option is a stepping stone for Medicare for All. As former Congressman Barney Frank admitted in 2009: “I think that if we get a good public option it could lead to single-payer and that is the best way to reach single-payer.”

Others on the left pushing Medicare for All, like the Physicians for a National Health Program reject the efficacy of a public option, arguing it is an unnecessary incremalistist policy approach doomed to fail.

Biden has distanced himself from a quick implementation of Medicare for All, arguing he does not want to dismantle Obamacare. But Kamala Harris has previously supported various Medicare for All proposals during her time in the Senate and on the campaign trail. In August, the New York Times recapped Harris’ support for Medicare for All.

In the Senate, Ms. Harris co-sponsored Senator Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All legislation, and at a CNN town hall event early in her campaign, she responded to a question about private health insurance by saying, “Let’s eliminate all of that.”

[O]n the debate stage, the Democratic candidates were asked who would abolish private health insurance. Ms. Harris was among those who raised their hands. But after the debate, she said she had misunderstood the question.

Pushing Medicare for All will be quite a lift, considering that 71 percent of Americans actually like their private insurance. But it’s clear that, whether through a public option or another policy ruse, Medicare for All is here to stay on the progressive left’s health care agenda.

Kaitlyn Finley Policy Research Fellow

Kaitlyn Finley

Policy Research Fellow

Kaitlyn Finley currently serves as a policy research fellow for OCPA with a focus on healthcare and welfare policy. Kaitlyn graduated from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Previously, she served as a summer intern at OCPA and spent time in Washington D.C. interning for the Heritage Foundation and the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

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