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Tom Ricker, Published September 06 2009

‘Public option’ is vital in health care reform

Hard-working North Dakotans are facing the devastating consequences of layoffs in Gwinner and throughout the state. Those consequences include economic insecurity, worries about our futures, the hardships to the entire community in which we work, live and play. And finally, how can we pay for basic health care coverage for our families?

We have negotiated a good union contract that provides health care benefits for our members and our families while they are working. However, we have come to understand the nearly insurmountable odds of finding affordable, quality health care for the men and women of this state who are casualties of the economic downturn.

The fundamental truth of our health care system is that: 1) It costs too much; 2) It covers too few; 3) It covers too little; and 4) It is getting worse. The current insurance structure through Blue Cross and others is prohibitively expensive. Some of these workers, as well as other hard-working people in our community, would never be able to pay for coverage. Many will spend sleepless nights hoping that their children do not get sick.

This is only one of the many reasons why we need health care reform now. The current health care legislation before Congress includes a “public option,” which if passed would allow these same hard-working people to purchase affordable coverage for themselves and their families as well as bring down the costs of private coverage by increasing competition with the private insurers. Another good part of the original health care bill would provide that employers would either pay for health care benefits for their workers or pay into a fund to provide those same benefits. Once again hard-working members of this community would have health care.

I cannot understand why one of the richest nations in the world does not ensure that every citizen has health care. The U.S. is the only democratic nation that does not provide affordable access to health care as a matter of right, so now is the time for us to call on our members of Congress and tell them that we want health care reform now.

Ricker is president of Steelworkers Union Local 560, which represents workers at the Bobcat plant in Gwinner, N.D.