In Opposing Public Health Care Option, Ben Nelson Admits Gov't Health Care Is Great
By David Sirota
May 7, 2009 - 11:16am ET
According to Congressional Quarterly, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) will oppose any effort to create a public health insurance program as part of a universal health care plan because such a public plan "would be too attractive and would hurt the private insurance plans." Nelson specifically said he's worried that if consumers are given a choice between a public or private plan, "the public plan wins the game" - which we are supposed to believe is a terrible, awful thing.
As I wondered in a recent newspaper column, how can conservative lawmakers simultaneously claim they love competition, but then oppose competition because in the cases when they fear a government entity would win a competition? You either support competition, or you don't - you can't pretend to be some voice of "independence" or "principle" as Nelson does and then support competition only when it favors your corporate campaign contributors, in this case the private health insurance industry (note that Nelson's #1 and #3 campaign contributors are the insurance and health care industries).
CAP's Matt Yglesias notes that Nelson and other public-plan opponents are now explicitly saying that "the reason [they] oppose a public plan is that it would work too well and take business away from insurance companies." Indeed, they aren't making an argument about worse health care quality, or rationing or anything else - they are explicitly saying they are afraid the public will know the government will do a better job of providing health care, and therefore the public will choose a government plan over a private one, if given the choice.
It's a rational fear for lawmakers' whose top goal is to protect private health insurance profits, and not to improve the health care system. Senators, who enjoy lavish government health care benefits, obviously know how good the government is at providing health care - and they know that the public will probably figure out what they already know if given a choice. Thus, those senators whose main goal is protecting their health insurance donors know that this choice - if permitted - would be bad for their health insurance donors.
Frankly, I hope people like Nelson keep making this kind of argument - I hope they keep telling everyone that they are afraid the public plan would crush private insurance in a mano-a-mano competition. The more they make that case, the more these lawmakers are implicitly saying that the government-sponsored health care programs they themselves enjoy are far better for patients and consumers than the private system. That is, the more they make this argument, the more they undermine the old canard that "government health care" is something awful.
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