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September 29, 2023

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A new, healthy, private-public partnership

The fundamental role of government is to protect and serve the people and the fundamental role of business is to produce a profit and serve its shareholders. When it comes to providing health care, we can fuse the best of both worlds to provide health care to the American people.

Let’s look briefly at where we are. The number of uninsured Americans is rising while the number of U.S. companies offering a health care benefit to employees is falling. Health care premiums have risen 78 percent in the last six years but wages have risen only 19 percent. The financial health of the American middle class deteriorates every month because of soaring health care costs.

Up against this harsh reality, more Americans have been forced to accept reactive care in an emergency room, because they can’t afford access to preventive care. This costs more in dollars and in health. And make no mistake, everyone pays. You may not be the person forced to seek medical treatment in the emergency room, but you are paying for that visit through higher premiums.

For years we’ve been told the answer to this crisis rests solely with the private sector. Special interests have funded multimillion dollar fear and smear campaigns to frighten the American people into accepting hype instead of health care. But let’s recognize just three facts left out of all those ads: SCHIP, Medicaid and Medicare.

The ads don’t tell you these and other programs of care and dignity were created by the government because the private sector failed to provide care for millions of people because it wasn’t profitable. Does anyone think we ought to cancel Medicare and let senior citizens go it alone, or not care for poor kids or vulnerable families?

Government led the way before and government must lead the way again. We know from history that well and decent programs like SCHIP and Medicare had to be created by government.

If anyone says you can’t trust government, ask them who they trust to protect America from terrorist threats, protect consumers from unsafe products in the marketplace, protect airline travelers by ensuring we have safe skies.

Government can provide the leadership and free the private sector to provide the services, innovation and efficiency. A universal plan would cover every American care that is financed publicly, but implemented privately.

In any insurance program, rates are determined by the risk pool -fewer people in the pool equates to higher risk – and higher prices since companies have a duty to make a profit. Today, risk is divided into thousands, if not millions of individual segments across America, which drives up prices and drives people out of the system as rates soar.

But an American health care program would create a national risk pool including every American – driving risk down to the lowest possible point. The efficiencies and savings would be enormous.

The irony is the more people we cover the lower the cost per person to provide healthcare. The system would eliminate uncompensated care, which every private provider faces today – and the rest of us pay for through higher rates. By providing a national risk pool, we bring enormous clout to the marketplace that benefits everyone.

Under a universal plan we don’t interfere with the delivery of healthcare services by the private sector, but we do provide the financial support to drive the system to achieve maximum efficiencies and lower costs. Public and private sectors working together actually work. We do it in time of war. We do it in time of national crisis. We need to do it now, because health care has become a national crisis.

McDermott is a House member from Seattle, Wash.

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