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San Francisco’s Public Option a Model for America’s Health Care Reform

For most working families, the idea of a health care public option is just a notion. But in San Francisco, it’s reality. And it works.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney joined San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski and San Francisco Labor Council Executive Director Tim Paulson at City Hall August 20 to urge Congress to pass health care reform with a strong public option, touting the success of the city’s universal health care system.

The “Healthy San Francisco” program, which was passed with critical support from labor, is a one-of-a-kind example of a public option of health insurance. Low-income workers are able to access subsidized health insurance while those with higher incomes are given an option to buy into a public health insurance option at reduced costs than they would face in the private market.

In fact, because of “Healthy San Francisco,” 75 percent of those in the city who were previously uninsured now have health coverage. San Francisco’s program exemplifies how a public option can effectively cover the uninsured and create choice and competition in the insurance market without negatively impacting job growth.

Congress can gain valuable insight into what a future public health care option nationally might accomplish by looking at the example of San Francisco’s first-in-the-nation universal health care system.
“Even those who fight reform cannot deny that our present health care system is broken,” said Newsom. “It is inefficient, unfair and enormously costly. A public plan can work. San Francisco is proving it by driving down costs, improving access to care and creating competition.”

According to Sweeney, a national public option is essential because it will create choice for workers and competition for private insurers, which will drive down costs and give more people access to quality care.

“The bottom line is that people have to realize it’s us against the giant insurance companies—we have to insist that Congress hold them accountable and put patients and our doctors in charge of health care,” he said.

The need for health insurance reform is especially acute in California, said Pulaski, citing recent budget cuts that are likely to add significantly to the rolls of the uninsured and underinsured. “What’s currently a health care crisis in California is about to turn into a full-blown epidemic,” Pulaski said. “The governor’s recent budget cuts decimate vital services for California families. Those who need care the most—seniors, the disabled, pregnant women and children—are even more vulnerable now.”

Despite the rhetoric from some business groups that a public health care program would lead to job loss, San Francisco’s experience with a public option shows otherwise, said Ken Jacobs of the UC Berkeley Labor Center. Based on the most recently available data, as of December 2008 there is no indication that San Francisco employment grew slower surrounding counties.

“The San Francisco experiment is working well. The public option has proved popular with individuals and employers alike, while not displacing the private market. And the employer requirement has not led to the job losses that many feared. These are important lessons for the national debate,” Jacobs said.

- http://blog.aflcio.org/