Representatives of the Georgetown University College Democrats and College Republicans squared off in a debate on [health care reform](https://www.thehoya.com/news/kucinich-talks-single-payer-health-care-students/) in a White-Gravenor Hall classroom filled almost to capacity on Wednesday.
Both sides recognized their common ground at the beginning of the debate, saying that neither wished to engage in the emotionally charged rhetoric that characterized town-hall meetings held across the country this summer. Sam Dulik (SFS ’13) of the GUCD and Ben Goldhaber (SFS ’12) of the GUCR agreed in their opening statements that ballooning health care costs show that the U.S. health care system needs to be redesigned.
“Far too many people fall through the cracks and lack the basic, quality health care that many of us in this room today enjoy,” Goldhaber said. “Health care reform needs to address these issues of quality and basic access, and it needs to do so in a manner that adds sustainable, long-term financial security to our country.”
The substance of the opening statements, however, served as an early indicator of the points of divergence between the proposals endorsed by each group. Dulik outlined the “10 most key facets” of President Obama’s plan. He said the presidential program would end discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions, set caps on out-of-pocket expenses like co-pays and deductibles, and initiate reforms in the medical malpractice industry.
Dulik then touched on two aspects of Obama’s plan that have emerged as the most controversial on the national stage: a public option and up-front funding that does not increase the federal deficit.
Goldhaber said the Democrats’ proposal is “ineffective, inefficient and harmful to our health care system.”
“Instead of addressing the systemic problems in our current health care system – like corruption, fraud and accountability in our numerous entitlement programs – they just add superficial fixes, mainly by pumping hundreds of millions of dollars [into the system],” Goldhaber said.
Goldhaber said Republicans feel that health care reform should focus on reworking the privatized industry to make it independent of corporations and granting tax cuts to individuals and small businesses to aid in paying for insurance. He said that allowing individuals to purchase plans across state lines would increase competition, thereby driving the quality of care up and prices down.
The remainder of the debate featured a question-and-answer format, in which both sides argued for their respective reform recommendations. Given the Senate Finance Committee’s rejection of two health care amendments on Tuesday, funding and cost-cutting emerged as the primary points of contention. Representatives of both the GUCD and the GUCR said that increasing competition within the private sector is the key to checking the trend of skyrocketing premiums.
Ryan Guptill (COL ’10), speaking for the Democrats, said that a public option is an integral part of achieving such competition.
“What you’ve got to look at is the fact that, right now, what you have in a lot of insurance markets is no competition whatsoever. . In some states, you have one insurance company that completely dominates the market. What the public option does is add another option on the table in that marketplace to create incentive for those private companies to reduce cost and increase efficiency.”
Ella Damiano (COL ’11) said the Republican solution of allowing individuals to purchase insurance from other states “just doesn’t make sense.”
“States regulate insurance individually. If you open up state lines, which state has jurisdiction over that insurance plan?” Damiano said.
Nick Iacono (COL ’12) of the GUCR responded that procedural fairness can be achieved in an interstate insurance market.
“The Commerce Clause is in the Constitution for a reason, to regulate interstate commerce. If we really want to work out the kinks in something like that, I think that’s a perfect opportunity to Democrats and Republicans to sit down and reach across the aisle and make that fair, rather than throwing around this ridiculous public option that we’re going to be squabbling about in committee for the next 1,000 years,” Iacano said.
The Republicans also said a government plan would do more harm than good.
“The government competes with the private sector the way an alligator competes with a duck: It completely smothers it,” said Kevin Preskenis (COL ’12), the GUCR chief of staff. “The government smothers the private sector by hitting it with regulations and mandates, because it has an unlimited amount of money it can spend. When you’re in the market economy, you’re accountable to the market forces. When you’re the government, you’re not.”
The GUCR pointed to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which represent the federal government’s forays into the home mortgage market, as examples of failed attempts by the government to compete fairly with the private sector. In the Democrats’ rebuttal, Dulik criticized the comparison as inaccurate and maintained that private insurance companies will not be driven out of business by a government plan.
“These people are professionals at turning a profit. You can’t honestly tell me that if the government were to institute a public option, which would not be available to necessarily every single consumer out there, that the insurance industry would just throw in the towel. . They can thrive as the result of competition,” Dulik said.
Iacono said an additional Republican fear is that Obama’s promise of federal deficit-neutrality actually means that the expense of the public option will be shouldered onto state governments.
“Obama says that his plan will not add to the deficit, but will be paid for through premiums. Well, we’re providing free health care, so who is paying these premiums? It’s going to be employers and also state governments that are going to be paying the cost of this public option program,” Iacono said.
In response, Guptill cited statistics predicting that the plan can fund itself internally, and may even slightly reduce the deficit.
“If you look at the Congressional Budget Office projections for the latest bill markup, you’re actually looking at saving 50 billion dollars over 10 years. If we don’t do what we’re doing now, we’re going to have costs grow exponentially. This isn’t going to completely solve the deficit problem, but doing nothing is absolutely going to drive the deficit up more than doing something,” Guptill said.
He ended with a sentiment that both sides, despite their different approaches, ultimately concurred with.
“If we don’t address the waste and abuse that is in our system right now, it’s going to get even worse and it’s going to be even harder to solve the problem down the line,” Guptill said.