According to the latest government estimates, nearly 50 million Americans don’t have health insurance. These days, I’m one of them. How did I get into that group? I had health insurance up until a few years ago – for part of the time from the various news media companies that I had worked for as a full-time writer and more recently through a policy I bought on my own as a freelance writer.

But with the rates for freelance writing crashing in recent years, it no longer seemed to make much sense to pay  about $5,000 a year for a service with high deductibles and ridiculous rules about pre-existing conditions.

I’m considered a part-time writer for this paper, and the owner of Fort Worth Weekly doesn’t offer the company health insurance option to part-timers. Business owners all over the country are taking that approach as healthcare costs have skyrocketed. Hiring someone who works 30 hours a week without health insurance costs is better than hiring someone who works 40 hours with the benefits.

So I have a vested interest in what is going on in Washington these days. The Obama administration is pushing healthcare reform measures to fix a very broken system. The sticking point seems to be Obama’s insistence that American citizens have a “public option,” meaning the federal government would get into the health insurance business. People could choose to go with the government plan or with a private insurer.

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The private insurers, drug companies, and Republicans are screaming that this will lead to a single-payer socialized medical system. That may be true. But to fix the current system, in which working families can no longer afford health insurance, the public option must be included.

Admittedly, there are big questions about how a government-run insurance option would work and be funded. But by removing the profit percentage that private insurers must figure in, the government system could negotiate lower prescription drug and hospital fees, and healthcare could be made available to the working poor with some federal subsidies.

It’s sort of funny how some conservatives in Congress are characterizing this debate. Out of one side of their mouths they point out that government programs like this are inefficient, wasteful, and bad policy. Then out of the other side comes the argument that a public healthcare system would become so big and efficient that it could put many private insurers out
of business.

After that comes the argument that bureaucrats would be standing between patients and their doctors. As opposed to now, when you have a private health insurance agent standing between you and your doctor. Or in my case, a brick wall between me and the doctor.

The anti-public healthcare folks also say the government shouldn’t compete with private business. But let’s use the example of education. We have public schools funded by taxpayers, who also have the option of enrolling their kids in private schools. Many public schools may not be as good as many private ones, but the bottom line is that everyone has access to education regardless of income.

And that is the point that is missing from this debate. The biggest factor in determining who gets decent healthcare is how much money you make. Oh, you can stand in line in the emergency room at a public hospital like John Peter Smith if you have no insurance or go to a JPS clinic, but the reality is that the waiting times are still tremendous, sometimes going beyond discouraging to downright dangerous.

Just as it is good public policy to offer education to all of our young people, it is also good policy to make sure our citizens have access to more than emergency care. Healthy workers are more productive, more efficient, and maybe a little happier. For the business community, that makes sense.

In a recent poll, 82 percent of Americans who responded said they’d like to have the public option. Instead of listening to them, however, many members of Congress are carrying the water for the private health insurers and Big Pharma, whose greed got us into this mess in the first place.

My lack of access to healthcare is not the only part of this issue that makes me furious. About five years ago, I approached numerous newspapers and magazines about getting hired on full-time again. I had tons of experience, had won numerous awards, and was willing to work for low pay. But I needed health insurance benefits for me and my then-middle-school-age daughter.

The editors told me privately that management had told them not to hire anyone my age (I was 45 then), because the health insurance costs for me would be too high. Better to go with younger and less experienced writers.

So not only do private insurers price me out of decent healthcare, they are also influencing my employment status. Does anyone else see a problem here that needs fixing?

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