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OPINION: Nevadans need the public option for health care. And a change to the status quo

Dr. Harpreet Tsui
Dr. Harpreet Tsui

As a professional dedicated to delivering quality health care for my patients, I have seen firsthand how Nevadans are struggling with the sky-high cost of care and insurmountable medical debt. The prospect of quality health insurance coverage that people can afford and depend on is critical to delivering relief to people. Despite efforts to derail it, relief is on the horizon as the Nevada public option moves closer to full implementation.

Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the truth: Nevada’s current health care system is not working for people. Despite being highly 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 access and affordability, and dead last in prevention and treatment. Nevadans know this all too well — 66 percent of Nevada adults reported experiencing health care affordability burdens in 2022. 

Nevadans are being priced out of the health care they need — many of my uninsured patients lack access to a health insurance option they can afford. This is exactly why the dependable, affordable coverage offered through the new public option is important. 

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

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

A recent op-ed attempted to lay out the lawsuit's constitutional complaints, but instead demonstrated a complete lack of understanding or indifference to Nevada’s Constitution. 

In that op-ed, industry opponents have wrongly asserted that the public option violates Nevada’s requirement that the Legislature must approve any bill that increases taxes by a two-thirds vote. But the public option doesn’t increase taxes. In fact, 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 care program such as 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 care 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 claimed that accepting those funds requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature because it is the federal government, not a taxpayer, who is transfering funds to the state. Following the logical arguments of the industry, American Rescue Plan funds, Violence Against Women Act funds and Medicaid itself would all be unconstitutional — an absurd reading of the Nevada Constitution, that is only being raised as a last, desperate attempt to defend outrageous corporate profits of giant insurance companies. 

The industry opponents' other legal claims are equally dubious. Ultimately, they seek to totally upend the Legislature's ability to carry out its core function — setting the state budget — because they're enraged that ordinary Nevadans might get the chance to pay less for health care. The entire suit is nothing more than an attempt to use our state court system to allow for 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 exactly what it is — a political attempt to maintain the status quo of rising profits for large corporate hospitals and out-of-state insurance companies, and staggering health care costs for everyday Nevadans. 

The Nevada public option is not just a policy proposal; it is a moral imperative. We know that our state’s health outcomes lag behind our peers, and that affordability and cost are at the root of the problem. I see it every day in the struggles my patients face affording 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 in the way to stop a change to the broken status quo, Nevada’s leaders should stay laser focused on what matters most: people. 

Dr. Harpreet Tsui, is a Las Vegas internist and the Nevada lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care.

The Nevada Independent welcomes informed, cogent rebuttals to opinion pieces such as this. Send them to [email protected].


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