OPINION: Nevadans need a public health care option.  And changing the status quo
OPINION: Nevadans need a public health care option.  And changing the status quo

As a professional dedicated to providing quality health care to my patients, I have seen firsthand how Nevadans struggle with extremely high costs of care and insurmountable medical debt. The prospect of quality health insurance coverage that people can afford and rely on is critical to providing relief to people. Despite efforts to scuttle it, relief is on the horizon as Nevada’s public option moves closer to full implementation.

Let’s take a moment to face the truth: Nevada’s current health care system is not working for people. Despite being very profitable for hospitals and insurers, Nevada regularly posts some of the worst health care numbers in the nation. Nevada ranks 45th among states in health care affordability and affordability and last in prevention and treatment. Nevadans know this all too well – 66 percent of Nevada adults report experiencing health care affordability burdens in 2022.

Nevadans are valued by the health care they need – many of my uninsured patients do not have access to a health insurance option they can afford. That’s exactly why the reliable and affordable coverage offered through the new public option is important.

We’ve seen the success other states are having with their public options. By implementing a public option for Nevada and giving Nevadans access to affordable insurance, we can help transform Nevada from a state with lagging health outcomes and extremely high prices to a leader in health care where all people, including many of my patients can afford coverage.

Critics, including insurers and hospitals benefiting from windfall profits, will try to argue that a public option in Nevada would send our health care system into a death spiral. Others, including out-of-state special interest groups, are throwing their weight behind a frivolous lawsuit that is heavy on rhetoric but without basis in law or fact.

A recent publication attempted to lay out the constitutional grievances of the case, but instead demonstrated a complete lack of understanding or indifference to Nevada’s constitution.

In that post, industry opponents wrongly argued that the public option violates Nevada’s requirement that the Legislature approve any tax-raising bill by a two-thirds majority. But the public option doesn’t raise taxes. In fact, the new “revenue” generated by the public option comes in the form of federal dollars transferred to the state.

Under federal law, if a state health program like the public option saves the federal government money, the federal government will share that money with Nevada. Nevadans will reap the benefits of hundreds of millions of dollars to invest in our health infrastructure without having to pay a dime in new taxes.

Many critical state agencies, such as the Nevada State Police, Department of Education and Medicaid, all accept federal funding. No one has ever seriously argued that passage of these funds requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature because the federal government, not the taxpayer, transfers funds to the state. Following the industry’s logic, the Bailout funds, the Violence Against Women Act funds, and Medicaid itself would be unconstitutional—an absurd reading of the Nevada Constitution that is raised only as a last-ditch, desperate attempt to protect the outrageous corporate profits of giant insurance companies.

The other legal claims of the industry’s opponents are equally dubious. Ultimately, they seek to completely undermine the Legislature’s ability to perform its primary function — setting the state budget — because they are outraged that ordinary Nevadans might get the chance to pay less for health care. The entire lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt to use our state court system to enable unchecked corporate greed at a time when Nevadans already pay some of the highest health care costs in the country.

This lawsuit should be seen for what it is – a political attempt to preserve the status quo of rising profits for big corporate hospitals and out-of-state insurance companies, and staggering health care costs for ordinary Nevadans.

Nevada’s public option is not just a policy proposal; it is a moral imperative. We know that health outcomes in our state lag behind our peers and that affordability and cost are at the heart of the problem. I see it every day in the struggles my patients face to get the care they need. Implementing the public option for Nevadans is necessary to give them the reprieve they desperately need. While opponents committed to keeping profits high for hospitals and insurers will throw everything they can to stop the broken status quo from changing, Nevada’s leaders must stay focused on what matters most: the people.

Dr. Harpreet Tsui is an internist in Las Vegas and the Nevada Chief Health Care Protection Committee.

The Nevada Independent welcomes informed, cogent rebuttals to opinions like this. Send them to [email protected].

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