We Need a Real and Robust Public Option

In the weeks ahead, Congress will take up one of the most pressing and glaring problems facing our nation -- our broken and dysfunctional health care system. As most of you already know, while American taxpayers spend more per capita on health care than anyone in the world, we have a health care system which leaves nearly 50 million people without access to a doctor. Even those with coverage are never more than one accident away from bankruptcy, or one job loss away from losing the coverage that they and their family rely on. The current situation is disgraceful, and at a time of economic turmoil, it's a threat to our nation's livelihood. That's why our nation must move towards a system of universal coverage which ensures that every American can see a doctor when they're sick, or get the prescriptions drugs that will save their life.

Providing universal access to health care is one of the 'Progressive Promises' that the Congressional Progressive Caucus was founded on. And today, we are getting close to succeeding in developing a health care system that works for all Americans.

Over the past few months, the Progressive Caucus, which I co-chair along with my colleague Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), has demanded that any reform legislation include a real and robust public option. We have put our party's leadership on notice that, after consulting our 80 members, a majority of the Progressive Caucus will only support health care legislation which includes a public option that will expand access, cut costs, and provide all consumers with a choice of plans.

I know that many of you wish that the health care debate would go further, and that it would include a single payer system. So do I. A credible and robust public option, however, will be a significant step towards getting us to the point of offering a single-payer plan where every American has the health care that they deserve. That's why the Progressive Caucus is fighting for it to be included, and that's why most Republicans, and some Democrats, object to any proposal except the continuation of the tried and failed insurance company system.

We're now starting to see the results of our efforts. Over the past few days there has been a growing consensus on Capitol Hill that a public option must be included in any eventual legislation. That's good, but not good enough. The devil is in the details. Congress can provide a strong public option, or it can offer a plan that will be set up to fail. The American public deserves to know the details, and understand how any proposed public option will expand access, cut costs, and allow all consumers to decide on the plan that's best for them and their family.

That's why the Progressive Caucus recently laid out its criteria for what constitutes a real and robust public option. Our members are looking for a public option that among things:

  • Is enacted as part of a comprehensive reform, and cannot depend upon any sort of trigger or outside action;
  • Receives the same level of support and subsidies as any private plan;
  • Offers consumers guaranteed affordable coverage, and access to high-quality and accessible health care;
  • Provides a standard package of comprehensive benefits including dental, vision, mental health and prescription drug coverage with no pre-existing condition exclusions.
  • And finally, is available to all individuals and employers across the nation without limitation.

You can read the Progressive Caucus' full criteria on its website.

The Progressive Caucus is fighting hard on this issue, and our proposals are being well received. However, this is not a time to slow down. That's why we need your help and support. Please call your Representatives in Washington and let them know that you only support health care legislation that has a real and robust public option, one that competes with private insurers by providing affordable quality care, and is open to all Americans.

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