Commentary: Choices would be welcome in health care

Most people in the United States get health insurance through a particular job with a particular company — except the elderly and the poor, who are covered by public insurance. No other industrialized country has an employer-based health insurance system like that.

The deep, deep flaws of that system, both for individuals and for employers, are more apparent than ever.

For businesses, the employer-based insurance system means they have to spend time and resources negotiating with insurance companies — time and resources that could be spent producing goods and services.

For individuals, the drawbacks are legion:

• If you change jobs or lose your job, you lose your health insurance.

• You have little or no choice of a health insurance plan. You choose among the plans offered by your employer.

• Coverage varies widely: If you work on Wall Street, you might have a $40,000-a-year, gold-plated plan at no cost to you. If you work at a hotel, however, you might have a bare-bones plan with high deductibles and co-payments.

• Coverage can be arbitrary: Many Americans are one major health event away from being underinsured (insurance not covering their injury or illness) or uninsured (being dropped from coverage or having premiums rise to unaffordable levels).

So what do the current five plans making their way through Congress do to ensure real choices for people?

Not enough. Those who work for small businesses or who can't buy insurance elsewhere would be able to choose among a menu of insurance plans on a national exchange. But as Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon points out, these bills leave most Americans who have coverage with no more options than they have today.

This major flaw is fixable, however: Allow any American to buy health insurance through the national exchange.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.