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Chris Deitch, Published December 12 2009

Health care bill should open up competition, not choke it out

Most people agree that our health care system needs to change. How to accomplish such change has been a difficult task. What Congress should be doing is improving upon the system we currently have, keeping what is working and changing what doesn’t. Instead Congress has been looking to completely overhaul the current system, including throwing out things that are working, most notably employer-based insurance.

There are 160 million Americans with employer-based health insurance, which constitutes a majority of people in this country. Most commercial construction companies, the ones we work with most often at the Association Builders and Contractors, provide health insurance to their full-time employees, and often they pay health care for their seasonal workers as well.

A recent CNN poll showed that eight in 10 Americans are satisfied with their current employer-based health insurance. Clearly, the employer-based system is working; throwing it out in favor of an expensive, complicated and untried public option would be a poor decision.

A public option would eventually lead to the elimination of private insurance, creating a complete government-run system for everyone. The public option would raise costs for the millions of people who are already covered by their employer, which is the majority of North Dakotans. A government-sponsored plan would create an uneven playing field with private plans.

Giving the government the capacity to set artificially low prices and subsidize them with taxpayer money would be devastating for private plans, which would not be able to compete with the low premiums of a government plan. This would lead to the decimation of the private insurance sector.

The new taxes and fees created to fund the public option would be the exact opposite of what we are trying to do with health care reform, mainly lower costs.

The new watered-down option, where states can choose to opt in or out of a public option, is not a reasonable compromise. Even if a state opted out of the public plan, it would still be required to pay federal taxes to support the states that had opted in. Raising taxes and establishing unrealistic mandates will not save health care.

Reforms should be simple and focused on lowering costs first of all, because the main reason people don’t have health insurance is that the cost is too high. Having the government pay for more people to access the current system will raise costs, not lower them. Allowing small businesses and trade associations to band together for group insurance discounts is one reform. Medical liability reforms, focusing on prevention and wellness, and instituting widespread health information technology, these are the types of reforms that will help lower costs by eliminating waste and abuse.

ABC stands for fair and free competition in construction because that provides the best value for everyone. We believe that is true in health care as well, and hope the bill will open up competition, not use a public option to choke it out.

Deitch is with Association Builders and Contractors, a national organization representing business associated with the construction industry.