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As President Obama's push for health care reform ramps up with the summer heat, a top official at St. John's Hospital in Springfield says a public government option could actually hurt access to coverage.
Of the many pegs of the president's approach, including a public option designed to compete with private insurance companies to provide healthcare to the uninsured is undoubtedly the most ambitious and controversial part of his pitch.
St. John's executive vice president Donn Sorensen, who also sits on the board of directors of the American Medical Group Association, would not go as far characterize a public option as a deal breaker for doctors, but called it "problematic."
"To the extend that government gets involved in a big way, there are some unintended consequences," said Sorensen.
But to health care advocate Lisa Fowler Koeppe, who organized a rally promoting universal healthcare in Springfield last weekend, a public option is a must.
"There has to be a public option," said Koeppe in a phone interview. "Covering some of these people with pre-existing conditions is just not profitable for the private insurers," she added.
Proponents of the public option, who are mostly Democrats, believe that only the government has the leverage to push down costs. They also tout portability. A nationwide public plan would allow Americans to move and keep their coverage, which isn't always the case with private insurers.
In a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday, the president focused on how more choices would provide people better benefits.
"This is going to be a marketplace to allow you to one-stop shop for healthcare plans and compare benefits and priorities in simple easy to understand language," said President Obama.
But placing the government in the pool as one of those competitors makes St. John's Sorensen nervous.
The fear is that since the government's option would be cheaper, many would ditch their private care for Uncle Sam. That would, in turn, squeeze insurance companies out of the market and leave doctors with much of the tab.
"If you go to this public option, that already pays providers at a lower rate and is scheduled to go lower in this bill, there won't be any doctors there that can afford to take you in," Sorensen argued.
Congressman Roy Blunt, who has been charged with leading the GOP alternative to Obama's plan, has also drawn the line in the sand on a government backed option.
"We believe his plan insures, guarantees, you won't be able to keep what you have because a government competitor is never a fair competitor," said Blunt in Springfield last week. "I am absolutely convinced that if you have a government competitor, then eventually you have no competitors," Blunt added.
Sorensen and Blunt instead favor market-based incentives that would drive hospitals and specialty groups towards a more integrated care model. They think boosting efficiencies, eliminating duplicate tests and focusing on prevention will help drive down costs.
Those are some areas where the president agrees with his rivals.
But at the core of the disagreement remains allowing the government in the game at all.
Right now, it seems that backers of a public option have the public support. A new Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found that 69 percent of those surveyed support a government-run healthcare option.
However, as Salon.com notes, the poll has a caveat: Only 28 percent of those polled said they would choose to be covered by such a program.
Sorensen said that the government option could become cheap enough for patients to afford, but too cheap for doctors to actually provide.
"Where every person may have insurance, the access to care wouldn't be available," he said.
LATEST WORTHWHILE HEALTHCARE DEBATE READS:
*Sen. Joe Lieberman comes out AGAINST a public option
*Dems have revised their plan to bring down the overall cost
*Newt Gingrich to ABC: "If you don't like your current insurance company, you can change insurance companies. But if you ended up with a single national health system, you wouldn't be able to change bureaucrats."