By Max J. Castro

The opponents of a public option as part of health care reform say they are afraid it would drive the private insurance companies out of business. If only.

Hello? Aren’t these the same folks who are always decrying the inefficiency of government? How could a government bureaucracy win a competition with the ultra-efficient private sector?

The truth is that the right-wing does not believe its own propaganda. The reality is that government is already providing excellent care at a good price through Medicare and the Veterans Administration. Medicare patients are more satisfied with their health care than people who have private insurance. If the government can provide excellent health care at a reduced cost to the elderly and veterans, why could it not do the same for the rest of the population?

The answer is that it could, and that is why the insurance industry will do whatever it takes to kill the public option. There is a disconnect between the ideology of the free market and the reality that there are some things that the government can do very well, including delivering health care.

It would be an excellent result if the public option drove the medical mercenaries, the insurance companies, out of business in favor of a single payer system. More likely, it would reduce their profits drastically and force them to cut their administrative costs and the huge compensation that top officials have been receiving. Public universities have not driven private colleges out of business. Why should it be different in health care?

But the health insurance companies have been on a gravy train for a long time, and they don’t want it to end. To that end they have spread around huge amounts of money to politicians, especially Republicans and right-leaning Democrats. These are the politicians who are now doing everything possible to scuttle a government health insurance option.

The Obama administration and the Democrats need to fight like hell for the public option. It is the most important piece of health care reform, both in terms of assuring access to all and curtailing costs. It is time to put away bipartisan illusions and cram the legislation down the throat of the Republicans. What could be a better testimonial the late Ted Kennedy?

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