Health Insurance Reform Must Include Public Option

A majority of Americans support a public option. An overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress support a public option. Doctors support a public option. Why then is the public option seen by some as the third rail of health insurance reform?

We know the disturbing facts by heart: Millions of Americans are one illness -- or one pink slip -- away from bankruptcy because of high health care costs and lack of access to affordable insurance. 30 million Americans are without health insurance. Nearly 400 Ohioans lose their insurance every day.

Middle class families pay $1,000 annually in hidden taxes to recoup the cost of care for our nation's uninsured.

When you look at the plan on its merits, the opposition makes little sense. It saves money. It will be available everywhere in the country -- providing reliable, affordable, quality health care to those in need. It injects competition into a marketplace that in most parts of the country is dominated by one or two companies.

What will happen if we hand over taxpayer-funded subsidies to the insurance industry and rely on them to cover all Americans? Insurers will demand higher and higher subsidies each year. Why wouldn't they? It's called profit maximization. After all, these are the same companies that pay their CEOs tens of millions of dollars each year while millions of Americans go without any health insurance.

A strong public option means competition for private insurance companies. It means coverage continuity in every part of the country. It means health insurance reform that ensures affordable access to coverage for every American.

I have held nearly 140 roundtables across Ohio in the last two years, and half a dozen health care town halls and events in the last two months. I have heard story after story of individuals and families who can't afford to buy insurance -- and can't afford not to. They watch their savings drain away as their health care costs soar.

The insurance industry has been in business for nearly a hundred years, and it has not managed to cover all Americans. Instead of wishing the insurance market would change, we need to change it. That's what the public option would do.

Progress rarely comes easily. It took a united Democratic party, committed to change, to establish Social Security and Medicare -- progressive milestones that pulled seniors out of poverty and increased Americans' life expectancy. Progressive milestones that were staunchly opposed by Congressional Republicans.

The public option is the moral compass of health reform. In the last 100 years, Democrats have yet to be on the wrong side of progressive reform.

Let's not start now.