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Regional lawmakers, doctors join campaign supporting a public-health plan

By KYUNG M. SONG
June 18th, 2009
The Seattle Times

Would you buy a health-insurance policy sold by the U.S. government?

What if it offered good coverage, affordable rates and were available anywhere in the country?

Pushing back against Republican attacks on President Obama's vision of a public-health plan, a nationwide coalition of state lawmakers, small-business owners, physicians, community groups and others Wednesday launched a public-relations campaign aimed at building support for an option they believe is essential for meaningful health reform.

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, was one of several state lawmakers who delivered a letter to Congress on Wednesday urging quick action on an overhaul that includes a public plan to compete with private insurers.

The letter was signed by 700 state legislators from 47 states, including 33 from Washington.

Several members of the state's congressional delegation have expressed support for the public option, including Sen. Patty Murray, Rep. Jim McDermott, Rep. Norm Dicks, Rep. Jay Inslee and Rep. Adam Smith, all Democrats.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, also a Democrat, is a notable exception. A spokeswoman said Cantwell is open to all public-plan proposals that allow for "competition on a level playing field with the private sector."

Susie Taylor, co-owner of TNT Software in Vancouver, Wash., said that for small businesses such as hers, private insurers have ceased to be viable options. Taylor said her premiums have risen by 60 percent in five years, forcing her to stop paying for coverage for the dependents of her employees.

"We need to have insurance companies compete for our health-care dollars," Taylor said during a conference call arranged by Heath Care for America Now, a national grass-roots campaign made up of more than 1,000 organizations. "We need another choice. And that needs to be a public option."

Dr. Julian Perez, a physician at Sea Mar Community Health Center in Burien, said only a national plan could offer the buying clout, simplified paperwork, portability and accountability to help the 46 million Americans without coverage, and rein in soaring health-care costs.

Some physician organizations and the insurance industry oppose a public plan, fearing that it would cut into their earnings or drive them out of business.

But Perez said he'd welcome a change that would free doctors like him to practice medicine instead of deciphering insurance benefits and scrambling for ways to care for patients without insurance.