Monday, September 07, 2009

The Public "Option"....

Scare quotes intended.

Although I don't talk about it much, I'd like to briefly explore what a public option in airline travel might look like.

Imagine after a clamor to bring down the cost of airline travel, we added a "public option" to the private air carriers out there. In addition to American Airlines, Southwest, and all the others, the .gov created an alternative. Call it BarryAir.

So, we would have one branch of the .gov charged with regulating the industry, and another which would "compete" in the industry. Let's ignore the possibility that BarryAir could tap the infinitely deep pockets of the .gov if they got into any financial trouble, and instead ask: Is there any illusion that a government that regulates an industry cannot fairly compete in that same industry?

So here's what brought this to mind....

This morning as I was eating my complementary hotel breakfast o' carbs, I watched the TV set to the local news. And their commercials were the following...
Every one of these institutions* have competitors. Someone is out there trying to get the consumer into their store before one of these four. Therefore these four have to advertise to get the consumer to spend their dollar with them.

* It is a fair point to say that the banks, especially the big banks, are de facto arms of the Fed and/or the Treasury.

And here is the fifth advertiser that caught my eye....

Kaiser Permanente. Their ad, coincidentally, was focused on this website which they claim is a great way to integrate all the care that a patient might be needing.

The point being: They have to advertise. The health care consumer has other choices, and Kaiser has to advertise to get their share of them.

We already have health care competition. Yes--we would benefit by having more competition. But adding a .gov "public option" because we don't have enough competition is the wrong answer to a question that doesn't need to be asked. The better question is: What can we do to stimulate private health care competition?

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