When “Public Options” Serve the Public – and When They Don’t
by: Lawrence S. Wittner, t r u t h o u t | Perspective, Thursday 03 September 2009
Currently, there is nothing more controversial in President Barack Obama’s health care reform proposal than the “public option.” Much of the controversy, of course, has been generated by private insurance companies, determined to safeguard their hefty profits, and by Republican politicians, eager to destroy anything that might redound to the benefit of the Democrats. Even so, a little clear thinking on the subject of public programs might illuminate their advantages and disadvantages.
In fact, there are numerous “public options” in American life, with many of them rooted deep in the nation’s history. In the area of education, there are public schools; in recreation, public parks; in travel, public roads; in fire-fighting, public fire departments; in law enforcement, public police forces; in culture, public libraries; in transportation, public bus and train lines; in mail delivery, the post office; in sanitation, public water supply plumbing, and sewers; in energy, public power; in old-age security, Social Security; in nutrition, public school lunch programs. Where did the notion ever come from that public programs were somehow “un-American”?
Even in the disputed area of health care, there exist public hospitals, Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Administration and the National Institutes of Health.
These and other public programs, while not perfect – and often challenged by private competitors – seem to work well enough most of the time. If they did not, Americans would be clamoring to abolish them. But, with the exception of the wealthy and their supporters, who dislike paying for their share of these social benefits through progressive taxation, most Americans seem reasonably contented with them. And when they are not, they use their democratic rights to reform and refine public services until they get them into more acceptable shape.