If you’ve got health insurance, chances are you’ve seen your premiums go up for no apparent reason. Maybe your benefits have stayed the same, but now you pay more for the same -- or even less -- coverage than you had before. Or maybe you’ve gotten a bill from your insurance company for something you thought they’d pay for, only to discover you missed something in the fine print. Or there was no fine print at all.

You can get angry, but with so few options in the health insurance marketplace in Indiana, or any other state, you’d have no real choice and nowhere else to turn. And if you did have a choice, anytime you switch insurance companies, you run the risk of being denied for a pre-existing condition they themselves define. It’s a system that works better for insurance companies than for you.

But there’s a new player in the game -- a health insurance option that’s not accountable to Wall Street investors or shareholders. It’s an insurance plan that wouldn’t have to pay high CEO salaries and bonuses like at WellPoint, wouldn’t have to spend millions of dollars on marketing and advertising, could streamline paperwork, and would cover millions and millions of people -- spreading the risk -- and still keep costs down. It would force private insurance companies to compete for business, not just with each other. They have driven up the price of health insurance just to see how much the market will bear, when we need a truly affordable alternative that puts people’s health care needs before corporate profits.

That’s what President Obama, Democratic leadership in Congress, and three-fourths of the public support. A new public health insurance option offered alongside private health insurance plans that would change the way private companies behave and for the better.

"It’s an insurance plan that wouldn’t have to pay high CEO salaries and bonuses like at WellPoint."

That’s why if you have health insurance and intend to keep it, you should fight for a new public health insurance option. It will lower costs for you and your family, and it will keep insurance companies honest.

For example, right now, one or two insurance companies dominate the marketplace in any given state, and they don’t compete to offer you the best coverage at the best price. They compete to see how high they can jack up premiums and how low can they set coverage and still get away with it. They also intentionally make policies and benefits explanations too long and complicated for the average person to understand. There’s no transparency because there doesn’t have to be. A public health insurance option would force private insurance companies to compete for your business because it would set a cost and a coverage benchmark -- a standard -- and consumers would know what they should be getting for their money and finally have somewhere else to turn if they’re not satisfied.

"Even if you don’t intend to choose the public health insurance option, just having it in the mix will make your health insurance treat you better when you get sick and need it the most."

There are other benefits too. Private, for-profit insurance companies can move in and out of markets, change what they will and won’t cover, contract with different providers or alter cost-sharing at any time. A new public health insurance option would always be there no matter what. So you could move, change jobs, or start your own business without having to worry about where you could get health insurance. The new public health insurance would be everywhere and available to everyone.

The insurance industry and other opponents of reform -- even many in Congress -- are fighting against a new public health insurance option. First they say the government can’t run anything and shouldn’t be allowed to offer a public health insurance option. But then they say a new public health insurance option will run the private health insurance companies -- the same ones with 150 million members, name-brand recognition, and decades of experience -- out of business. How so? By being less expensive? If less expensive were the only criteria for why people buy products in the U.S., we’d all be driving Yugos.

Private insurance companies don’t want to have to change the way they do business and make money. They don’t want to have to be accountable. They’ve been raking in the dough uncontested for decades. Now is the time we can offer them a little healthy competition and force them to give you your money’s worth. Even if you don’t intend to choose the public health insurance option, just having it in the mix will make your health insurance treat you better when you get sick and need it the most.

Isn’t that worth fighting for?

Allison Luthe is a community organizer with Central Indiana Jobs with Justice. She can be reached at allison@centralindianajwj.org.