Public option could be boon for state business

The question of whether a public option for health insurance will come to pass in Connecticut likely comes down to one person — Gov. Ned Lamont.

The governor, like all top elected officials in the state, is a Democrat. But he has made a name for himself as something of a moderate, a “business-friendly” leader who has stayed away from calls elsewhere in his party to, for instance, raise taxes on the rich. While his administration has overseen the passage of policies prized by the left, including a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave, Lamont likes to hold himself at a distance from that wing of his party.

That’s just politics, and likely plays into the governor’s calculations going into a potential 2022 reelection campaign. But when it comes to health insurance, this is the question that needs to be asked: What could be more pro-business than a public option?

This is actually two different questions. The first is whether business lobbies like the idea of a government-run alternative to private health insurance, and that answer is clear — they don’t. It could be argued the largest members are drowning out the voices of others who would be more amenable to the plan, but that doesn’t change the bottom line.

That doesn’t, though, mean a public option would be bad for business. A plan that anyone in the state could buy into could unleash a wave of growth in Connecticut, a state that would love to brand itself as home to breakthrough innovations.

The idea is simple. If people are only clinging to their jobs because they need the benefits, then their entrepreneurial dreams would stay strictly theoretical. But if they have the freedom to purchase quality, affordable coverage separate from their jobs, they would be more apt to take a risk and start their own company. Connecticut, or whoever gets on board the public option train, could be home to a new wave of startups.

A public option would give people what they now lack — a choice. The idea is that the program, which would not need to pay a CEO millions of dollars or show results to shareholders, could be competitive and help keep costs down across the board, wringing better service and outcomes out of private companies, as well.

The insurance industry doesn’t like the idea, but the opposition appears to be purely ideological. It’s not a given that there would be job losses in that sector if the plan were to pass, since the work of designing and running the plan would be subcontracted to those same companies.

The Legislature, newly fortified with more Democratic votes, appears to be on board. A veto override is theoretically possible, but no one wants it to come to that. A public option would be a legitimate win for the people of Connecticut and give Lamont something concrete to point to as he enters the home stretch of his first term.

It’s a pro-business plan. The governor would be wise to support it.

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