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Public Option Must Be Part of Health Care Reform
Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer.

If Senate and House members vote against including a public health insurance plan option in health care reform, they very well could lose the backing of working families and their unions in the next elections, says AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka.

Trumka issued the warning in an interview with Sam Stein of Huffington Post after recent news reports indicated a public option to allow working families to choose between a private plan or a public plan that offers quality care could be pulled from health care reform legislation. Trumka told Stein:

“We’ll look at every one of their votes. If they’re against the Employee Free Choice Act, if they’re against health care for that reason, I think it’ll be tough for them to get support from working people.”

Trumka also said union members are mobilizing to show lawmakers, especially those who may be wavering, that there is strong and broad support for a public plan option that would provide competition to the private, for-profit insurance industry and help bring down soaring costs.

“We’re also going to keep politicians strong, so that they don’t listen to the moneymen and continue to erode away or negotiate away a program [so much that it] ultimately becomes useless,” Trumka said. “Right now, without a public option, [reform] becomes useless. It won’t change the current system.”

On Wednesday AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called a public health plan option “a crucial part ” of health care reform:

“A quality public health insurance option is a crucial part of health care reform to keep private insurance companies honest, hold down costs and ensure that everybody has a health care choice available,” Sweeney said. “Key to holding down costs for families, for businesses and for the federal budget is forcing insurance companies to compete. And the only way to force real competition on the insurance companies is a strong public plan option.”

Meanwhile, a group of 60 House members who are strong backers of comprehensive health care reform have told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that without a public option, they will not vote for a health care bill. In a letter to Sebelius, the group said:

“Americans deserve reform that is real—not smoke and mirrors. We cannot rely solely on the insurance companies’ good-faith efforts to provide for our constituents. A robust public option is essential, if we are to ensure that all Americans can receive health care that is accessible, guaranteed and of high quality.

“To take the public option off the table would be a grave error; passage in the House of Representatives depends upon inclusion of it,” the lawmakers said.

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