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Government controlled health insurance puts all at risk


No public health issue is as important as being able to access high-quality, affordable health care. I believe we all can agree on this. Growing up, I always wanted to be a firefighter, and I’m grateful that I was able to serve my community as a first-responder. Helping those in need was always my dream, which is why, back in 2012 after responding to far too many distracted driving-related crashes I launched the nonprofit Look! Save A Life in Southern Arizona, to help “foster an environment of safety for all who utilize our public roads.” Then, in 2013, I became a statistic of the message I was advocating, struck from behind by a distracted motorist while bicycling on my day off, sustaining injuries that forced me away from my firefighting career.

Brendan Lyons

Brendan Lyons

Serving on the frontlines of public safety, previously as a firefighter/EMT and today as a safety advocate, is more than just responding to emergencies: doing the job right requires a real understanding of public health issues as well. And no public health issue is as important as being able to access high-quality, affordable health care. That’s why I’m fighting hard to make sure people in my community and across the nation will continue to be able to access the care they require in the ways that best suit their circumstances.

For example, I’ve known several former firefighter colleagues who’ve battled with occupational cancer. Just less than a month ago, Goodyear Fire Department had reported the line-of-duty death of retired engineer Austin M. Peck, who had been fighting cancer since 2015. Fighting cancer is tragic enough, but those who serve on the front lines of public safety are denied workers’ compensation or medical coverage from the municipalities in which they serve should give us all pause for concern.

Fallen Phoenix firefighter Brian Beck Jr., a third-generation firefighter, was denied his workers’ compensation claim in 2018, despite his cancer being recognized in a 2017 law, expanding the list of cancers presumed covered by workers’ compensation. It took a letter from the Attorney General’s Office, alleging “certain municipalities” weren’t adhering to the law, for the Phoenix City Council to overturn Beck’s denial. Yet, another case in a separate jurisdiction less than 15 miles away underscores the systemic challenges these first responders face. Just last month, after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, Glendale Fire Captain Kevin Thompson was denied his workers’ compensation claim with the city and was forced to appeal any out-of-pocket costs not covered by his city-provided insurance plan.

These cases exemplify in grim detail why we should be skeptical of any proposal that seeks to establish a health care insurance system in which the government is entrusted to negotiate benefits and coverage. Right now, there is a debate going on in this country about the best way forward to ensure our health care system works for as many people as possible. However, many of the solutions put forward by those running for office should give us all pause, especially first-responders and union members. It is critical that we push candidates calling for a “public option” or “Medicare-for-all” to provide more details so we can realistically evaluate these plans’ impact on our access to care.

As with every fire department or public safety agency, administrative leadership works hard to provide quality, comprehensive plans and benefits for its firefighters or public safety personnel. Given the higher rates of occupational-related diseases like cancer or conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, firefighters need highly specialized plans that meet their specific needs.

Under a government-run health care system, these individualized plans and other union-negotiated, employer-provided health care coverage would not survive. Forcing firefighters, law-enforcement, EMTs, teachers, and others off their insurance in order to create a government-run system that will offer less choice, longer waiting times, and poor coverage could end up punishing hardworking families who have secured quality health care, while doing little to curb costs.

If this is what local government-controlled health care insurance looks like, just imagine how bad things could get for health care plans if they were managed by the federal government through systems like Medicare for all or single payer. Rather than creating a new government-run system, we should work together to ensure that public-private partnerships are able to provide the best care to the most people at an affordable cost. This would allow for several competitive market options that would afford people to choose where they would like to spend their hard-earned dollars for their health care. We’ve invested too much to start over, it’s time to build on the system we have, shore-up the network gaps for those already covered and invest in care coordination to increase access.

As election season heats up, we should all take a long, hard look at the plans being put forth by some candidates and truly examine how they would impact our health care; and not just for our Public Safety Family, but for every family—across America.

Brendan Lyons is executive director of Look! Save a Life.


  1. bradley taylor hudson

    Mr. Lyons writes “Under a government-run health care system … “, and then goes on to say things that are just not true. Make no mistake: insurance companies are in business to make a profit. They owe it to their shareholders to take in as much money as possible, and pay out as little money as possible in benefits. They constantly undermine good care by confusing the public, requiring needless paperwork, a referral system that often stops care, and simply not paying their bills. It is true that govt systems in general need improvement, but a system that is accidentally inefficient it preferable to one that is inefficient on purpose. The govt, by definition, serves the people. Insurance companies, by definition, exploits people for profit.

  2. Competition brings lower prices and higher quality. Always. Single source brings higher prices, lower quality, and bureaucratic ineptitude. Always. Government is not the solution to the problems with our health care system that government caused.

  3. A friend was recently flown about 40 minutes by helicopter to a regional hospital after being found unconscious. The bill for the flight was $47,000. Isn’t the real problem the outrageous cost of the service and not the insurance? He had a 10 minute follow-up CAT scan a few weeks later that cost $8,000. What 10 minute procedure for any other service in the world costs $8,000? I understand that health care is a business and deserves to make a reasonable profit but come on.

  4. I don’t believe any of them. When the citizen’s of the United States have the same health care as the United States Congress, who decides what citizens get, then I will believe

  5. These “free-market” arguments about healthcare are always the same. Government can’t do anything right and/or it’s “socialism”. It’s the all-purpose anti-government nihilist argument for doing nothing if a tidy profit can be made.

    It’s nonsense of course, otherwise the United States would be a plague-ridden agrarian backwater that didn’t wipe out half a dozen virulent diseases in the 20th Century, produce a continental highway system, map the human genome; send men to the moon and invent the Internet. There is a segment of the population that is suffering from a form of historical amnesia.

    Nobel prize-winning economist, Kenneth Arrow, in “Uncertainty and the Welfare Economics of Medical Care” published back in the stone-age(1963) pretty much destroyed the argument that the provision of medical care conformed to the standard “free market” model. In other words, health care is not like refrigerators or widgets.

    When are we going to stop pretending the private market solves all problems? That’s religion, not economics.

  6. The writer appears to be in favor of private sector control of health care / insurance decisions.

    It amuses me to support this notion, examples of determinations made by privatized third party companies regarding workers compensation claims are used as evidence of the evil of involving the government in health insurance.

    In my view, workers compensation claims – payments etc. are not health insurance. They are payments made by an employer to cover the cost of accidents or illness incurred by an employee while in the course of employment.

    If anything, I would think the writer would be critical of the government for outsourcing the decisions regarding workers compensation claims to unaccountable third party companies but that doesn’t seem to fit the narrative the writer is attempting to spin.

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