Don’t listen to industry spin: Pass the public option

State lawmakers are close to passing a bill that could literally save the lives of Nevadans by giving them a more affordable health insurance option, but insurance corporations like the ones I once worked for — and the allies they enlist in their propaganda campaign — are spending heavily to mislead the public and derail the bill. 

When I headed the communications departments for the private insurance companies Humana and Cigna, my colleagues and I recruited organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and even medical groups to oppose reforms that might disrupt what has become a very profitable status quo for both insurers and many health care providers.

You probably have heard their misleading and often outright false talking points to scare you into thinking that a new health plan designed to reduce the number of Nevadans without health insurance, and bring down the cost of health care, would somehow not be in your doctor’s best interest — or yours. 

In my old career, I used to help write the very same talking points to make people believe, for example, that if state lawmakers were to pass legislation to make the health insurance marketplace more competitive, to give you even a single new choice, somehow your premiums will go up and your doctor will pack up and move out of state. 

The reality is that Senate Bill 420  would do just the opposite. Not only will you have another health care plan to choose from, but doctors would still negotiate their rates just as they do today. Additionally, the Nevada public option proposal guarantees that insurance companies won’t be able to negotiate with doctors for rates lower than Medicare. 

You wouldn’t know it from the industry’s talking points, but that provision of the bill actually protects doctors and other health care providers by establishing a floor for reimbursement rates that are comparable to or better than Medicare — and considerably better than Medicaid. Given that the average private insurance payment for physician services in Clark County is 102 percent of Medicare and the average statewide is 118 percent of Medicare, many physicians and other clinical providers stand to do better under the Nevada public option. Bottom line: Rates under the public option would be at or improve upon current average reimbursement rates statewide. 

As for health insurance premiums (which my former employers want you to believe will go up), the public option is designed specifically to keep premiums low. By leveraging the state’s purchasing power, more Nevadans will gain access to more affordable coverage. 

Another fear-mongering talking point I shamefully used to write, and that the bill’s opponents are circulating in Nevada, is that health care providers will ration care and that rural and other safety-net hospitals will close. The truth is that hospitals and other providers will get new revenue from providing services to newly insured patients covered by the public option. This will reduce the amount of uncompensated care that doctors and hospitals have to deal with today. 

As other health care reform advocates and I wrote in a letter this week to legislators, the Nevada public option will increase access to care for those who were previously uninsured without undermining access for others. A favorite talking point the industry takes off the shelf whenever health care reform is being considered is that creating a new health plan to compete with more established plans will actually decrease choice and competition. That just simply isn’t true, but I know from experience that people can be hoodwinked into believing it. Here’s the truth: The introduction of a new option for the comparatively small number of people in the individual and small group markets in Nevada will not be significant enough to send either insurers or providers running for the exits or change providers' willingness to care for people in their communities.

I implore you not to fall for the industry’s propaganda, which I can assure you is coming straight out of the well-financed Washington, D.C. PR operation that I was once a part of. The sponsors of this legislation have your best interests in mind; the healthcare industry most certainly does not. Unfortunately, I know that last part first-hand. 

By creating a public option, Nevada can reduce its uninsured rate, stabilize revenue for rural hospitals, and provide dependable, affordable, and equitable health care for more Nevadans. And believe me, insurance companies and health care providers will still do just fine. 

Wendell Potter is a former executive at Cigna and Humana, turned health insurance whistleblower, who is now the president of the Center for Health and Democracy.