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We can no longer view public health care as an option, it is a necessity. While Congress is bogged down in political lobbying, New Yorkers confront the "choice" between their pension or health care coverage, rent or medication. Millions of New Yorkers face these choices today, with over 1.3 million New Yorkers uninsured and even more underinsured. We must take this opportunity to allow those who have no other options a chance to live a healthy and productive life and receive the type of medical care we all deserve.

According to the New York Urban League's State of Black New York, diabetes in New York City has doubled in the past eight years, and it is estimated that one third of these people do not know they have diabetes. In this city, black New Yorkers have a higher prevalence of cardiovascular disease, strokes, heart attacks and hypertension than the general population, and nearly 15,000 New Yorkers die every year from cancer according to the city health department. With all these diseases, the long-term prognosis greatly improves if they are detected early through prescreening and preventative care.

The public option, now being proposed, calls for a government insurance plan as well as private insurance. While the exact proposals vary, some kind of public option would create more choice for the public, spur increased competition in the market and allow those who are shut out of the current system to enter. Access to government-issued health care will provide competition for private health providers, lower costs and help to close the healthcare gap between lower-income and more affluent Americans.

The model already exists for the federal government to provide a cost-effective and efficient option. The best public option would be run similar to Medicare. Currently, the administrative costs of government run Medicare are lower than that of any other large health care plan. Like the current Medicare, the best public option would protect the rights of all to essential health care functions and pool the risk between the healthy and sick, thereby lowering cost.

The public option can be a cost effective, efficient form of health care. It is not simply for those who are uninsured -- we can all benefit from these necessary reforms. By opening the health care market to more options, those uninsured, underinsured or with no other choices will have the freedom to choose.

A healthier America is more productive, costs less and results in an overall higher standard of living. By injecting the market with this new option, all health care options, private and public, would be forced to become more inclusive and less expensive. Low-income families, people of color, and those most in need of health care have been shut out for far too long. It is time for change to truly come to America.

Arva Rice is president and CEO of the New York Urban League.


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