Health care's political tug of war | Guest column

By Pete Gonzales, Federal Way resident

By all accounts, I'm living the American dream. I married a wonderful woman and raised two great kids. I own a house, two cars and a civil engineering business.

Yet I'm feeling a terrible anxiety that cannot be dismissed as merely one man's “mid-life crisis.” My insurance broker called a few weeks ago to say our health premiums will soon increase a whopping 35 percent to 50 percent. How can I put my kids through college and save for a comfortable retirement if health insurance continues to skyrocket at such a ferocious pace? Like millions of other Americans, I am eager for lawmakers to forge real solutions, but unsure who to trust in the political tug-of-war over health reform.

My concerns are confirmed by Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive who stepped forward, as an act of conscience, to reveal the duplicitous, well-financed PR and lobbying campaigns the insurance industry launches whenever Congress tries to reform health care. In congressional testimony, Potter described in chilling detail how insurers form front groups and commandeer seemingly mainstream business organizations, like the National Federation of Independent Business and Chamber of Commerce, to kill consumer protections.

No wonder I'm so conflicted: Some organizations that purport to represent the interests of small businesses like mine have sold out to big insurance.

Potter's recent warning that if Congress "fails to create a public insurance option to compete with private insurers,” it might as well name its legislation “the Insurance Industry Profit Protection and Enhancement Act," struck a chord with me. My business partner and I have no leverage to negotiate with the private insurance companies that control our current options. Though our small group is healthy, they shackle us with huge rate hikes every year. Rather than granting a monopoly to private insurers, I want the choice of a high quality health insurance plan that is accountable to the public.

As for the “big government” argument against creating a public option, suffice it to say that by midlife many of us develop a nose for propaganda. And that stuff reeks. By the logic of health reform opponents, we should hand over control of not only health care, but also our ports, highways, bridges and safe water supply, to private profiteers. No thank you. Just as my wife and I graduated from a public university and proudly send our daughter to one now, we want government to play its proper role. That's why we vote and pay our taxes.

I am willing to pay my fair share into a system that assures all of us the care we need. But it angers me to see precious health dollars wasted on corporate jets and enriching insurance executives, some of whom now make more money in a week than a primary care doctor earns in a year. It's even more troubling that Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana) accepted millions in campaign contributions from big insurance and pharmaceutical interests, proposed legislation that increases their profits even more, and then voted against his colleagues’ amendments to create a public option.

At this moment, lawmakers are melding various proposals into final legislation, with lobbyists hovering at every turn. Though the devil lurks in the details, the overarching question is whether people, or corporate exploitation, will carry the day. I am pleased that my Congressman, Rep. Adam Smith, recently announced support for a public insurance option. It’s the only way to keep the private sector honest. I urge him to vote for HB 3200, “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act,” which will make health care more affordable for every American.

At the end of the day, if members of Congress pass legislation that does not materially improve people's lives for the long term, then they — and we — have failed.

My stomach is in knots because this is crunch time.

Pete Gonzales is a professional civil engineer and co-owner of Pyramid Engineering in Federal Way. He is a volunteer and board member for Communities in Schools of Federal Way, which recently named him Mentor of the Year.

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