Hospitals decry public option as top Dems seek feedback on a potential bill

Top Democrats in Congress have issued a request for information on a potential public option bill, and hospitals are already decrying the nascent legislation.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, have announced their plans to introduce legislation for a public option and are seeking feedback from colleagues on a number of factors, including eligibility and how benefit options should be designed.

Pallone chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Murray chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and are two critical voices in healthcare policy in Congress.

In a joint statement, the legislators note that President Joe Biden has named a public option as a priority for his administration.

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“This pandemic has underscored why it’s so important to patients, families, and communities across the country that health care is truly a right, not a privilege," Pallone and Murray said. "No one should suffer or die because quality health care was too expensive or too hard to get. We believe we must take bold steps to lower health care costs and move toward universal coverage by creating a federal public option available to everyone—and a clear majority of Americans agree."

"A federal public option will help guarantee that no matter where you live, who you are, or what your income—if you live in America, you can get the quality health care you need without worrying about cost," they said.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) and the Federation of American Hospitals (FAH) quickly released statements opposing the move, warning that a public option could undercut providers financially.

Rick Pollack, president of AHA, said in a statement that, instead, Congress should focus on finding avenues to enhance and support existing policies such as the Affordable Care Act.

"We do not support the introduction of a public option plan that could increase the strain COVID-19 has placed on our health care system," Pollack said. "This type of proposal would strip significant resources from providers by relying on inadequate reimbursement rates, increasing the risk of hospital closures and threatening access to care for patients and communities."

FAH CEO Chip Kahn said in a statement that "now is not the time for us to become embroiled in debates over issues like public option."

"It would be a mistake to allow such distractions to stand in the way of enacting legislation that sets the pathway to all Americans having the health coverage and health care security that all of us deserve and should expect," Kahn said.