Who's Afraid of a 'Public Plan,' and Why?

The private sector may not have as much to fear from a public plan as it thinks.

ByABC News
June 23, 2009, 5:11 PM

June 25, 2009— -- Why are private insurance companies and managed care organizations so frightened of a "public plan"?

One controversial element of current ideas about health care reform is the proposal that a new public health insurance plan sponsored by the government should be created.

This new public plan would be an alternative source of insurance for people who cannot get health insurance through an employer-sponsored plan at work and cannot find an affordable option in the private, individual market, or as an additional option for employers seeking group coverage for their employees.

There remain many differing visions about what this public plan might look like and how it might be structured, but any such approach is the subject of some pretty heated debate. Understanding a bit more about why this idea is controversial might be helpful as the conversation moves forward.

From literally the time of our nation's founding, most Americans have been taught (and genuinely seem to believe) that the private sector can do almost anything more effectively and more efficiently than the government.

We acknowledge a few exceptions: national defense, international relations, some policing and public safety functions and basic education. Even in those areas, the government role is often viewed as a grudging admission of necessity, rather than a clear expression of preference. And whenever it seems to be an option, we pursue means of having these public functions accomplished though contracts with private entities.

In part, of course, some of our belief that private initiative is preferable to government action is historic, emotional and a matter of basic philosophy. It reflects a view that government, even if it is democratically elected and subject to a wide range of checks and balances, is to be feared as a force that may reduce our liberty and perhaps our highly valued self-reliance.

This latter aspect is of special concern if government programs reach too deeply into too many areas of our daily lives.