Washington became the first state in the nation this week to create a public option for its health insurance exchange but some observers warn it's a trojan horse for government-run health care.
A public option is a government-funded plan that supporters insist creates competition in the insurance market and drives down prices. In the case of Washington, the bronze, silver, and gold public option plans will be on the same website where people enroll in a health insurance plan during the annual signup period.
"The public option is a trojan horse for government-run health care," says Meridian Paulton of The Heritage Foundation.
Although the Left claims the public option helps cover the uninsured, Paulton says in reality it tilts the balance to the government-run program.
“And ultimately,” she says, “moves us closer to a government-run program, closer to something like Medicare for All."
The idea of a public option is not new. Some liberal lawmakers wanted a public option included in the Affordable Care Act. But it was not included, and nearly 10 years after the ACA was signed into law, premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses remain high.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree something must be done, and not just in Washington state where liberals such as Gov. Jay Inslee say a public option could help consumers.
Inslee, who is running for president, also sees it as a way to fight back against Republican-led efforts in Congress to reform health insurance.
"This legislation is one way for our state to push back, to ensure that all Washingtonians have high-quality health-care insurance, an option they can afford that is available across the state of Washington," said Inslee.
Details on the public option plans in Washington state are forthcoming. That's because they will not be available until January 2021.
Meanwhile, The Seattle Times reports that "it's too early to know what exact coverage they will offer or how much they'll drive down health-insurance costs."
According to Roger Stark of the Washington Policy Center, Democrats control the House and the Senate, and the governor's office, and all three have pushed a "very aggressive agenda" in The Evergreen State during the current session that included a push for a public option.
Like the warning from Paulton, Stark says the public option represents a move toward single payer and he predicts his state will eventually abandon the private insurance market in favor of a government-run system.
Meanwhile, what's wrong with Medicare for All?
Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and dozens of Democrats maintain Medicare for All would lower administrative costs and give everyone the same coverage, thus removing headaches of picking and paying for a plan.
"That abolishes every private option that we have right now, which would increase costs for Americans and reduce access to care," warns Paulton. "That's what a public option moves a step closer toward."
Lawmakers in at least eight other states including Colorado and New Mexico have proposed their own public option measures. But so far none have passed legislation implementing a public option.
Editor's Note: Comments from Roger Stark have been added to the original story.