News & Views from 465 California Street

Save the Public Option

Clint Reilly

The conservative right’s anti-federal government drumbeat continues, this time to oppose health care reform.

I’ve seen the attack so many times before: “Government can’t do anything right.”

I’m amazed it keeps working.

Last weekend, word came from the White House that President Obama was bending to the criticism and was now willing to sacrifice one of the central tenets of health care  reform, the so-called “public option.”

This would be a terrible mistake.

The public option simply refers to a government-run health insurance plan that would compete in the open market with private insurers. The added competition would help to lower overall prices and guarantee accessibility to those who have been shut out by private insurers.

Despite the profoundly positive role our government has played in creating a better life for Americans, anti-government sentiment remains deeply ingrained in the national psyche. Consider the reforms generated by the New Deal that have improved the lives of successive generations.

Social Security and Medicare, universities and colleges, home loan programs, public parks and recreation facilities, regulation of natural resources, creation of roads, highways and public transportation systems – even our armed services, which are the most powerful in the world.

Still, there is a suspicion that government misspends tax dollars and operates inefficiently because it does not run on the profit motive.

I first encountered the anti-government canard when I began managing political campaigns in the 1970s. Rent control was a new concept at the time and major landlords successfully stopped its implementation for years by raising the bogeyman of a massive new taxpayer-financed bureaucracy that would inspect and regulate each and every apartment – intruding on the privacy of both owners and renters.

But as rent control was finally adopted by a few test cities, the false claim was easily rebutted by the fact that no such huge bureaucracy was required.

In the 1980s I was hired by the Public Power Association of America. This is a consortium of cities and counties and other jurisdictions that own and operate electric utilities. Here in the Bay Area, Santa Clara and Palo Alto are cities that own utility systems. Sacramento, Los Angeles and Pasadena are a few other California cities that also provide power for citizens.

These publicly owned utilities compete directly with the three major privately owned power companies in California – Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric Company. I conducted an extensive poll of consumers assessing attitudes toward public and private utilities.

I found that even though public utilities often had lower rates and were viewed to be more environmentally protective – consumers were more concerned with reliability of service. In other words, when they flipped the switch, they wanted the lights to go on. Intuitively, consumers trusted the private companies more than the government companies.

This anti-government bias has continued to be a key issue in recent years as cities like San Francisco and Davis have held unsuccessful votes to convert from private to public power.

It is a testament to the anti-government argument’s power that it is again being successfully exploited to derail urgently needed health care reform.

Consider the historical context in which the attack is being waged. The U.S. government only recently completed a multi-trillion-dollar bailout of our privately-owned and managed financial system.
Global capitalism is still alive only because governments around the world banded together in a concerted effort to rescue it. And when the dalliances of privately-owned financial institutions brought the world economy to its knees, taxpayer-funded stimulus packages from Washington to Beijing were mobilized to restart stalled economies.

America’s privately owned and managed health care system is no less imperiled than our financial system was only months ago. With costs cannibalizing 15 percent of our GDP, 47 million uninsured, and arbitrary and unfair distribution of care, our system requires massive government intervention.

Let’s strongly urge President Obama to reject the smear campaign against government managed health care and to continue the fight for a public option.

Comments (12)

  • Thank you for your excellent PS message concerning the despicable campaign being waged against government managed health care. The public option is imperative unless there is a sinister move to discard those who cannot afford private insurance. What kind of society are we building? We all deserve basic health care and a compassionate government that promotes the welfare of it people. That is what civilized nations do. If you want to read the deranged nonsense posted by so-called seniors, go to the AARP site. Susana

    Posted by: Susana | August 25th, 2009 at 11:01 am

  • That was a great article on Aug 25th, well thought out and very insightful. I can’t think of anything to rebut. Oh, except for the fact that granting health care to every person in America is not mentioned in the Enumerated Powers of Congress (Article 1 Sec. 8 if you want to look it up), and you make no mention of how to pay for it. You cannot both increase services AND reduce cost. Please don’t be niave. Who is going to pay for it? What about those who would rather have an iphone and $200 shoes instead of health care? Do we get to cover them too? Plus we know from previous interviews with Obama that his end game is a single payer system (yes it is, he said so, I heard him) even if it takes ten years
    to achieve.

    Thanks for listening.

    Posted by: J. Gann | August 25th, 2009 at 11:04 am

  • I read with interest your article “Save the Public Option” in the SJMN. I
    am a scientist by training. As scientists we learn to do experiments on a
    small scale to gain knowledge that enables better design of experiments of
    increasing scale culminating in the full scale process or product. With
    regard to “public option” healthcare, small scale experiments have been done
    in the states of Massachusetts and Maine over the past 5 years. As
    reviewed in a recent issue of Barrons, Massachusetts has recently applied for
    federal funds to bailout their program, has stopped enrolling new low income
    participants and has denied 30,000 legal immigrants participation in the
    program. The Wall Street Journal recently reviewed the failure of the program
    in Maine and the unexpected costs of such a program.

    When experiments on a small scale fail, scientists revise their theories,
    approaches, methodologies. It seems that politicians simply ramp up the
    scale of the failed experiments. It’s comparable to launching a small scale
    rocket and watching it blow up and then deciding to build a full scale
    model, person it with crew and watch it fail as predicted by the smaller scale

    Government run healthcare is clearly expensive as demonstrated by the
    rising costs of Medicare. What possible savings could accrue to another
    government run healthcare program without reducing care and curtailing payments
    in Medicare. The hoopla about “end of life counseling” cannot to be
    ignored. I have heard several speakers over the past few years, TV pundit Gerkin
    among them, who stated that the only way to reduce healthcare costs will be
    to stop efforts to prolong life when people are elderly or terminally ill.
    So “euthanasia” is a possibility and a concern that cannot be dismissed.
    I am sure the youth who supported Obama have little concern at this point
    in their lives about “end of life counseling” and, therefore, have little
    interest in the implications.

    Finally, I am concerned about the continuing involvement of government in
    every aspect of our lives. The constitution contains nothing about
    healthcare being a right of the people. Given the government takeover of our auto
    manufacturing, financial system and now potentially healthcare, how is a
    citizen not to be concerned that we are headed for European socialism?

    I am reminded of a statement made by a Scottish professor about the time
    of the American revolution quoted below:

    About the time our original 13 states adopted their new constitution, in
    1787, Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of
    Edinburgh, had this to say about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 2,000
    years prior:
    “A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a
    permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the
    time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts
    from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for
    the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with
    the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal
    policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.”
    This statement certainly rings true today as some Americans expect
    government to provide everything for their lives and well being. It is a
    dangerous direction.
    Your claim that those who oppose the “public option” are
    “anti-government.” If you take time to read the US constitution you will find that
    it’s was
    written to protect citizens from government takeover of our lives. The
    “the public” option is an invasion of my right as a citizen to seek the kind
    of healthcare I want.
    Democrats often tell us that there are 50 million not covered by
    healthcare (many of them are illegals.) If that is true, and I doubt it is, where
    will the 30,000 doctors come from to service this 50 million? Where will
    the hospitals and other medical facilities come from? Or will we just add to
    an already overloaded medical system? And why will our brightest young
    people want to enter medicine if they will become nothing more than another
    government employee?
    So those of us who oppose the “public option” are not “anti-government.”
    Rather we are concerned with the government take over of what is most
    precious to our well being, our health and welfare. What will be next:
    “universal home care,” universal food care?” After all the two most important
    basic human needs are food and shelter.
    You also argue that government intervention was critical in bailing out
    the financial system. However, the rocket has only been launched from the
    pad and we do not know if it will blow up down range as many predict with
    high inflation, a weaken dollar and higher costs across the board.
    As Prof. Tyler stated, when Americans look to government to solve their
    problems and provide handouts we are an a course of decline and eventual
    collapse. Sadly many like you will accelerate that decline and collapse.
    Robert G

    Posted by: Robert G. | August 25th, 2009 at 4:19 pm

  • After that amazing article on Mervyns I find your new article regarding Public Option such a disappointment. Being a retired government employee I am, by far, not anti-government. I do resent you gathering all the people who disagree with public option health care as anti-government. I would assume you are a party person or your article would be not be so biased to dismiss those of us who disagree with public option. As a retired person who worked for 37 years with government and part-time with Mervyns for 11 years I have seen people who cannot afford medical (although
    offered) and those of us who took cheaper options (although offered all insurances) and then those who chose Blue Cross – the top plan. Now that I am retired, the company that owns our benefits plan have dropped Blue Cross. Too expensive. As any business owner they will eventually offer the cheapest plans …and although I didn’t take Blue Cross, and chose Kaiser – presently I am not affected but if there were to be a public option —sooner or later most business will drop those that costs more and offer only the public option. Any reasonable person with an IQ knows
    that. As in my case, I’ve listened to many who thought Kaiser would kill them outright and Blue Cross was the only way for them. To me, if they want Blue Cross they should have it and if they worked all their lives like we have then they should not be dropped at the end because who owns their plans find Blue Cross to expensive but it will happen as it is happening now.

    Having friends in Canada and some good friends that live in TN I know how their public options work – their taxes and their time waiting for surgery and, yes, they came here for their surgeries when needed. With Kaiser I have waited many hours in the ER and at one time when they added so many more people the DRs were told counsel time 15 minutes. Now with a public option I would think Kaiser would be the Blue Cross of the day. I have adjusted myself to the Kaiser way .. I chose it and have learned to deal with it – I am an opinionated person and will speak up but many
    don’t. As with all insurances there are mistakes made and we all pray that it won’t be us. But if public option happens then my way will eventually change – Kaiser will be dropped and I will be in a public option plan and it will cost a fortune to keep running and become a huge drain on our government which is US, the TAX PAYER. It will not be cheaper to run and and there are just so many of us that make over $250,000 – the monies are not there. I am not a socialist but we must have some socialist run things for there will be those who do not work, are sick or challenged
    or jailed. That is in any government. There are many options – sliding scale health clinics, etc. As it is now – all get health care but yes they do use the ER.

    My friends that are for public option – a lot are smokers, drink and over indulge. I tell them that if they don’t adhere to the “preventive” way they will not be cared for as the doctors who now treat them and pat them on the head. Of course, that is my opinion.

    I never write in to these articles for we are all entitled to our opinions – you just write yours in a newspaper but calling us “anti-government” is just plain silly and oh by the way … my years at Mervyns qualified me to be on unemployment … I called 60 times to get someone to answer the phone – to no avail. We can discuss government run agencies based on my experience. Unemployment is beyond laughable. I have so many stories that can be backed up. I wish I were younger because someone has to be these departments accountable. I am fortunate to be a two income family
    but had I had to count on unemployment I would be an activist tomorrow.

    Posted by: Kemp | August 25th, 2009 at 4:22 pm

  • Your historical perspectives are much
    appreciated.Sol Alinsky,Fred Ross,Cesar Chavez etc. GREAT STUFF!
    Thanks for all you write.What would you think of an organizational
    effort that would focus on the social,economic and civic integration
    needs of new legal people in the U.S.? A transition program.A bridge
    to far?

    Posted by: Jon | August 25th, 2009 at 4:23 pm

  • Public Option is just that an option. This does not mean Government Take over of Health Care. You have options, if you have private health care and you are happy, great, keep it!

    As for the end of life discussions that are portrayed as euthanasia and death panels, please, this is a deliberate distortion if not an outright lie. All that Obama’s plan proposes is that the consultation over your end of life wishes be covered under health care. If you’d like your team of doctors to pull out all the stops and do anything to keep your heart pumping…you can state that. If you don’t want to leave end of life instructions, that’s fine too. And if you want to limit medical intervention when all hope is gone for a conscious recovery,than within the limits of what the law says, you can leave instructions indicating your wishes.

    Lastly the proposal does not cover illegal immigrants. Providing health care for all may not be what some consider a right, however it will ensure a healthy society which will in the long run costs us less than the sick uninsured who tax us all just in our hospital ERs.

    Posted by: melinda maginn | August 25th, 2009 at 7:16 pm

  • I sincerely believe that keeping the public option would be one of the worst things we could do! There has been much less than honesty regarding claims the Obama administration has made. Lie number 1. You keep your doctor and your insurer. Under the plans Obama has backed in the House and Senate almost any business can opt their employees into the “public option” , the government health plan. That means you lose your insurer and if you have a good Doctor you will lose him or her. Not too many Doctors are going to want to work for the low pay in the Government system.
    Lie number 2 The elderly will not face rationing or medicare cuts. . Just last week the flagship of liberal newspapers admitted that that fears of rationing for the elderly are not “irrational” Indeed Obamacare would bring 40 to 50 million new patients to government healthcare. Who will pay for it? Of course we will! Seniors on Medicare will take the first big hit. The Times said “Bills now in Congress would squeeze savings out of Medicare” Thus Bureaucrats will decide the extent and type of care you will get!
    Lie number 3. There will be no “Death Panels” They don’t lasbel them as “death panels” in the legislation, however that is what their job will be. These committees will set guidlines with which bureaucrats will make decisions about you and your healthcare. They indeed will decide who lives and who dies. The Times says that Medicare and the insurers would be expected to follow advice from a new federal panel of medical experts regarding what treatments work best.
    Lie number 4. The Obama plan contains costs. Not really as the CBO estimates over one trillion dollars in new federal outlays. A huge outlay for 40 to 50 million new people coming into the system. Aside from that at least 150,000 new doctors would be needed and you don’t get them out of thin air. What happens during a shortage? Right! you get rationing!
    Lie number 5. Illegals will not be covered and they do include one quarter of the 40 to 50 million uninsured. None of the Democratic plans exclude illegals!

    Interestingly enough Clint Reilly states that government programs work very well. However we see that 20 percent of Medicare funds are lost to fraud. Medicare and Social security are both approaching the end of their funds. No, government programs are not noted for working well.

    As far as Socialist health care schemes go, most of them are not working well. Just recently the head of the Canadian Medical Association stated that their system was “On the verge of implosion” Some hospitals in Vancouver are shutting down due to lack of funds. The British medical care system is the third largest employer on the planet and it is not working well at all with very long waits for very inadequate medical care. Patients are unable to get the best medications as the government has deemed them to be too expensive! There is a shortage of medical equipment in both Canada and Great Britain, so long waits for things like MRI’s are the rule. Medical care systems in France and Germany are also in deep financial trouble.
    Honestly, is this the kind of thing we want? We currently have the best medical care anywhere on the planet, do we really want to scrap it for something which is very unlikely to work?

    Keep in mind the average lifespan of a Democracy is 200 years and we are now past 230 years, the life cycle of a Democracy is as follows:

    1. Bondage to Spiritual faith

    2. From Spiritual faith to great courage

    3. From Courage to liberty

    4. From liberty to abundance

    5. From abundance to complacency

    6. From complacency to apathy

    7. From apathy to dependency

    8. From dependency back to bondage. (during the steps 5-8 we are turning away from God)

    We are already far into step 7 and Obama and his crew are pushing as hard as they can to get us into step 8!

    Posted by: Craig Cannon | August 25th, 2009 at 9:03 pm

  • I am in total agreement with you approach to the Public Option for health care reform. I was born in England and lived for many years in Canada, the ridiculous charges of the Republican anti-government stance is in trying to derail any solution to the health care problem is infuriating. I have sent email messages to both Senator Boxer and senator Feinstein, what else can i do to help this reach influential representatives?

    Posted by: Vivian | August 26th, 2009 at 9:13 am

  • I am a frequent reader of your articles. I am registered republican, however I am
    liberal on many things and conservative on others. I just have not had time to register as
    an independent. In your recent article on “Save Public Opinion,” refers to anti-government sentiment. I believe this sentiment
    stems from several points:

    1. Congress, the Senate, and the President himself are completely disconnected from
    what the american people really feel and frankly don’t care.

    2. The government is littered with useless, unproductive, and unaccountable people. Public employment has grown while the private sector loses jobs at a steady pace. Our high taxes support these people. The waste and innefficiency factor I put at at least 25%. I think Americans are tired of supporting people ( other than the military), who have never had a real job that produces something.This includes the aristocracy of Congress and the Senate, those of which are used to signing shecks on the back only and never on the front.

    3. Taxes will continue to go up to support out of control goverment spending.

    4. Should a public option for health care pass, I have read that 150,000 more government jobs will be created and filled by uninspired and entitled people. I also suspect a good number of the 40-50 milllion people you refer to as unisured are illegal aliens that have no right or claim to any public benefits whatsoever. I also feel the goverments inability and reluctance to address illegal immigration fuels this fire. Fortunately, there is a lot of space between California and New York. I also feel that that the majoriity of Americans are inherently conservative, patriotic, would die for their country but not their goverment ( I would), and absolutely resent what the limousine liberals are doing to our country.


    J. Petray

    P.S. Why anyone think that a goverment run health option could at any level be run efficiently? The thought itself is a contradiction in terms.

    Posted by: J. Petray | August 26th, 2009 at 9:36 am

  • There are many of us who have supported Obama since the beginning and still do. We are stymied on how to help him with health care. We are being given no information on what to do, whom we can email (supporters to encourage, ‘Blue Dogs’ to tell to ‘shape up’, and Republicans to castigate). Where is the organization? Why aren’t the names and email addresses being given to us? All we’re getting is ‘go to a rally’. Some of us can’t do that or are in no shape to shout down the paid protesters,
    or there are no rallies to attend. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to an organized mail onslaught directed to the right people. Why isn’t this being done. There are many of us ready to respond, but no guidance. We WANT health care reform and we WANT the insurance and drug companies reined in. We are getting discouraged!
    Can you help us?

    Independent voter

    Posted by: Independent voter | August 26th, 2009 at 9:37 am

  • For “independent voter”,

    You can help by clicking on link below and entering your zip code to find an event near you. There are several ways in which you can help.

    Posted by: melinda maginn | August 27th, 2009 at 8:14 am

  • For those who feel America has the best health care in the world…click below.

    Posted by: melinda maginn | August 29th, 2009 at 10:38 pm

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