Health care is a human right. It's time for a public option.
As voters went to the polls last year, health care was their No. 1 issue, edging out the economy for the first time in more than a decade. In the months since the election, in conversations with constituents across my district, I have heard countless stories about people's desperation to fix a health care system that is failing them and their families far too often.
A key source of their frustration is that nearly a decade after passing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), so many of the problems that the law was designed to address stubbornly persist. It is true the ACA has provided millions of Americans with access to health insurance, many for the first time in their lives. The law has also offered critical protections to people with preexisting conditions, and made steps to constrain overall health spending. But we must recognize that rising premiums, higher deductibles, unpredictable bills, narrow networks, and lack of affordable options are all problems people still face every day. Millions remain un- or underinsured and millions more are afraid to seek the care they need because of overwhelming costs. All these issues have been exacerbated by the chaos and uncertainty created by relentless Republican attempts to dismantle, defund and defeat the ACA -- in Congress and in the courts -- all without any plan to replace it.
On the Democratic side, there are many different health care ideas under debate. All these concepts share a commitment to the principle that we have a national imperative, and moral obligation, to ensure every American gets the care they need whenever and wherever they need it. More succinctly: health care is and must be treated as a right for all, not a privilege for the fortunate few. Simply tinkering around the edges of the ACA is not sufficient to achieve this goal. We need bold solutions that will bring real improvements to people's lives.
One important step would be creating a "public option" -- a government-sponsored health insurance plan that competes in the marketplace with private insurance. A new public plan would promote competition to drive down overall costs and return the focus more appropriately on patients and their needs. It would offer an essential alternative for the nearly 1 in 5 Americans, including my constituents living in Lake County, who get their insurance through exchanges with only one insurance provider.
Two bills currently in Congress would move us in this direction. Rep. Jan Schakowsky's CHOICE Act will create multiple government-offered health plans on the ACA marketplace. And Rep. Brian Higgins' Medicare Buy-In and Health Care Stabilization Act will allow older Americans aged 50-64 to buy into Medicare as they approach retirement age. I am cosponsoring both these bills as part of my commitment to shoring up the gaps in the ACA and finding the solutions to make our health care system truly work for all of us.
To be clear, I share the frustrations of all Americans with our health care system. I appreciate the aspirations of those who want to go further to a completely government-run health care system. But I think a public option is a better and more immediate way to achieve our shared goals.
A public option will bolster competition, help control skyrocketing costs, and give patients more choices. It is time for action. Our constituents have waited long enough.
U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider is a Democrat from Deerfield.