Can A “Public Option” Health Insurance Plan Actually Work?

Would private insurance actually allow it?

Image for post
Image for post
Photo via Kamala Harris on Instagram

Of all the issues that the average American in the United States faces, it would be fair to suggest healthcare is among the most serious. The profit motives that drive our current health insurance system have led to a system that remains arguably unsustainable, and thanks largely to Bernie Sanders there has been a renewed conversation on what sort of healthcare system the nation actually needs.

Famously, Bernie Sanders has campaigned on the national stage continuously since 2015 for a Medicare for All, single payer system. Kamala Harris, a fellow presidential candidate who claimed to be an advocate for Medicare for All, signed on as a cosponsor of Bernie’s bill. The bill would effectively do away with private health insurance, make healthcare free at the point of service, and over the course of four years transition the United States in to a country with government run insurance that provides full coverage. Recently however, as many of us know Kamala Harris has changed her tone, and come out with her own “Medicare for All” plan.

Under Kamala’s plan that she calls Medicare for All, her proposed ten year transition phase would eventually result in a dual private and public health insurance system, commonly referred to as just a system with a public option. While it’s no question that I definitely prefer a single payer system that does away with a profit motive all together, it’s definitely important to engage with each other and discuss what a public option system would actually entail, as opposed to single payer.

As those of us who follow politics know, politicians who propose the public option position themselves as not wanting to take away the choice of the American people. If someone wants private health insurance, they should be able to get it. While that may be sound, simple logic on its surface, it’s fair to argue that this position fails to take in to account the very nature of a profit driven organization and what — by its very nature — it would do to a public health insurance option.

A public insurance option, in the context of the a country like the United States where private corporations have so much leverage, would be likely doomed to fail.

Private health insurance coexisting in the same environment as a public option would ensure that the private companies get to insure the healthiest and richest among us, while the costly healthcare for the sick would fall on the taxpayer. Inevitably, this would lead to a scenario where Republicans would be able to point to the public option and say that it’s too expensive, inefficient, and offers subpar coverage. After that, the right would undoubtedly work to ensure that no one covered under private insurance would have to contribute to the cost of the public option (if they hadn’t already guaranteed that in the first place), thereby weakening it so much they would be more able to do away with it all together.

In addition, the coexistence of private and public insurance does nothing to get rid of our two tiered, unjust healthcare system in which the privileged and rich are privy to an entirely different standard of care, perpetuating a system where the vast majority of Americans suffer.

A public option is frankly nothing more than a bandaid on a sore that won’t heal without treatment. There are certain industries where a profit motive simply should not be allowed to exist, and the health insurance industry is definitely one of them. A system like Bernie’s Medicare for All, or some other form of single payer, is the only way to ensure that people aren’t dying simply because they can’t afford health insurance. A public option is frankly a waste of time, and just yet another roadblock to an overhaul of the system that we desperately need.

Written by

Lauren is a writer & leftist with analysis on topics related to politics & policy. She can be reached at or Twitter @xlauren_mx

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store