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State legislators lobby for public health care insurance by year's end

By MARJORIE KORN
The Dallas Morning News
June 18, 2009

WASHINGTON — State legislators urged Congress and the White House on Wednesday to enact comprehensive health care legislation that includes a public health insurance component by year's end.

Members of the Progressive States Network, a state government coalition, met with Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to lobby for a public insurance option. They said that would answer Americans' call to provide health care coverage for all.

"The real goal is to give everyone access to health care that is affordable," said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, co-chairman of the coalition. He said citizens should have three options for health care coverage: individual, employer-offered and government-sponsored.

Just as Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program are federal-state programs, so too will be a public health insurance plan, meaning state support would be essential, Coleman said.

"The investor with the federal government in health coverage for people are state governments," Coleman said. "That's the reason [state support] makes a difference: because those costs are borne by state taxpayers for insuring those with limited income."

Coleman argued that a public-insurance component would help the country achieve universal health care, meaning no one would be forced to go without health insurance because of cost, without going to a system such as in Canada, where government is the only insurer.

Insurers and some Republicans have expressed fear that a government option would ultimately crowd private insurers out of the market.

Harkin, a member of the Senate health committee, said a public insurance plan would set a benchmark for coverage and reduce prices in the private market.

"There are powerful forces at work to keep us from having a public plan," Harkin said.

The Progressive States Network gave Harkin a letter signed by more than 700 state legislators from 47 states that outlines key priorities for an overhaul. Twenty-three state representatives and one state senator from Texas signed the letter.

Coleman will also be part of the newly formed State Legislators for Health Reform, whose members will work to advance health care reform by hosting public events, write opinion pieces and organize constituent support.