The insurance industry inadvertently gave health reformers the best argument we ever could have had to pass a public option and the strongest possible regulations on insurers. Declaring that rates will go up dramatically if reform passes, insurers launched a full-scale open assault on the idea of any reform at all yesterday, except I guess a reform plan especially tailored to them and their profitability. What they left out of their little study is that they are the ones who decide when rates go up because the biggest companies have very little competition in most of the markets they are in. There is no federal rate regulation, there is no anti-trust enforcement in insurance (they are specifically exempted from it in the McCarran-Ferguson Act), and unless there is a public option, there will be little competition. They will be the ones who decide if the rates go up, and they have just guaranteed they would raise those rates if we don't stop them from doing it.
It's sort of like the sheriff in Blazing Saddles holding the gun to his own head, and saying "back off or I'll shoot." The insurance industry is saying that if they don't like what's in the bill, they will just decide to arbitrarily raise the rates. But we can stop those rates from going up by checking the insurers' power. That's why a public option, real competition for an arrogant out-of-control, way-too-powerful industry, is so essential. Without it, we are left to their whims, and anytime, for my reason, they will just jack up their rates. If their stocks go down, if they just want more profits, if some regulation they don't like is passed, they will just raise their rates. With a strong, robust, nationwide public option, we can force insurers to the table, and give them real competition.
Personally, I think we ought to repeal McCarran-Ferguson and impose tough rate regulation as well. That would really open up competition and guarantee lower prices. But at the very minimum, we have to have a strong national public option. The insurance industry has just reminded us as to why that is. Thanks for the help in making our case, friends.
By the way, it's not just me who thinks this. Voters do not support being forced to buy health insurance unless there is a public option -- at that point, as the polling clearly documents, voters are fine with an insurance mandate. As long as there is real competition with a public option, voters are fine with being asked to buy insurance. Sometimes I think regular voters are smarter than the politicians they elect to govern them.