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Health Care Public Option Pushed At Hartford Rally And Others Around Nation

Kenneth R. Gosselin

September 23, 2009

As the U.S. Senate's finance committee began debate Tuesday on sweeping health care reform legislation, demonstrators around the country, including in Hartford, renewed a push for a public option plan they say is essential to true reform.

In Hartford, more than 200 people gathered in front of the headquarters of health care giant Aetna Inc. on Farmington Avenue waving banners that proclaimed "Americans Need the Public Option Now" and "Aetna's Denials Make Us Sick."

The Hartford event was one of 150 demonstrations around the country, many of them in the home cities of large health insurers. They were organized by a broad cross-section of unions and activist groups united under an umbrella group, Health Care for America Now!

The bill being debated Tuesday in Washington does not include a public option, which would be similar to Medicare but not for the elderly.

Supporters of a public option say it would provide much-needed competition to private insurers to drive down costs.

Matthew Brokman, a spokesman at the Hartford rally, said health insurers are putting profits before patient care.

"We need to have a public option to keep them honest," Brokman said.

The insurance industry has opposed a public option, saying it would undercut them and could eventually drive them out of business.

Cynthia Michener, an Aetna spokeswoman, said the vast majority of every premium dollar goes to paying claims.

"Of that premium dollar, only about 5 percent is profit far less than the larger profit margins made by other sectors like pharmaceuticals at about 18 percent and software companies at 22 percent," Michener said in an e-mailed statement.

Aetna supports ending the denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions. But in return, everyone must have health insurance, echoing the industry's stance.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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