PA Rep. Bob Freeman Introduces Public Health Insurance Option Bill

The public health insurance option was the big rallying point for progressives during the Obamacare debate, but a federal public option never became part of the final bill because marginal Democrats and Olympia Snowe ultimately opposed it.

That doesn’t mean we can’t have a state-level public option though. The Affordable Care Act gives states a ton of flexibility to do what they want, if they can prove their plan will cost less than Obamacare. That’s how Vermont was able to create a single payer system. A single payer system in PA could save residents as much as $1000 a year, but the politics of soaking doctors and hospitals just aren’t ripe yet. Maybe we can get it into the PA Democratic Party’s platform as a start?

A guy can dream, but one thing we can do today is ask our state legislators to support Rep. Bob Freeman’s new bill HB 1526 , which would allow the State Workers’ Insurance Fund (SWIP) to sell health insurance to individuals and businesses. This would allow people to buy a public insurance plan once the state health insurance exchange is up and running in 2014. No one would be forced to buy it. It would still be funded with premiums, but it would likely be substantially cheaper than the private insurance plans sold on the exchange, in part because of its low overhead.

Here’s Rep. Freeman’s press release on the bill:

State Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Northampton, has introduced legislation that would make health insurance more affordable for Pennsylvanians by permitting the State Workers’ Insurance Fund to sell health insurance.

The State Workers’ Insurance Fund within the Department of Labor and Industry was established by law many years ago to provide a workers’ compensation program for Pennsylvania businesses that could not access workers’ comp insurance in the private sector. It is only permitted to sell workers’ compensation insurance. Freeman’s bill would expand its offerings to include health insurance.

“By allowing SWIF to offer health insurance, it would make a quality insurance product available to Pennsylvanians at a lower cost than current rates because of its lower administrative overhead, and it would create more competition within the health insurance market,” Freeman said. “In addition, by making this available in the market, it would serve as a yardstick by which to measure the fairness of rates charged by private health insurance companies.

“Health insurance rates are increasing at twice the rate of inflation. I believe that this proposal will effectively bring health care policies back to an affordable range for the average Pennsylvanian. It would offer a less costly alternative to the current private health plans offered today,” he said.

Freeman said this new ability would not be an extra cost to taxpayers; the offering would be paid for with premiums to health care subscribers and a loan from the SWIF fund, which would be paid back.

The bill is H.B. 1526 and is expected to be referred to the House Labor and Industry Committee.

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