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Obama Admin Backs Away From a Public Option

August 17, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

The public option had a bad weekend:

The White House, facing increasing skepticism over President Obama’s call for a public insurance plan to compete with the private sector, signaled Sunday that it was willing to compromise and would consider a proposal for a nonprofit health cooperative being developed in the Senate.

The “public option,” a new government insurance program akin to Medicare, has been a central component of Mr. Obama’s agenda for overhauling the health care system, but it has also emerged as a flashpoint for anger and opposition. Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, said the public option was “not the essential element” for reform and raised the idea of the co-op during an interview on CNN.

Mr. Obama himself sought to play down the significance of the public option at a town-hall-style meeting on Saturday in Grand Junction, Colo., when a university student challenged him on how private insurers could compete with the government.

After strongly defending the public plan, the president suggested that he, too, viewed it as only a small piece of a broader initiative intended to control costs, expand coverage, protect consumers and make the delivery of health care more efficient.

“The public option, whether we have it or we don’t have it, is not the entirety of health care reform,” the president said. “This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it.”

Later on Sunday, the White House Office of Health Reform put out a statement that President Obama still believes that the public option is the best way to bring down costs and increase choice in the health insurance market. That may be the case, but if Obama isn’t going to be out there pushing the public option as the most important part of the bill, it’s hard to imagine that it could go anywhere in the Senate.

As I’ve written on this blog several times, the Administration has never really put their full support behind the public option. It hasn’t been the part of reform they’ve been pushing. But I still think the comments this weekend are significant. We’re right in the middle of the August recess, Democrats have been getting hammered on this at town halls and need some leadership. It’s easier than ever to take the Administration’s tepid support as a sign to surrender.

Obama’s approval job approval ratings are going steadily down, now around 50 percent, as is support for the broad outlines of his health insurance reform plan. He needs to get this bill done, and the public option is the main element causing him to loose support for health reform among Republicans and some conservative Democrats. As Bill Clinton said this weekend at Netroots Nation, “the minute the president signs this bill, his approval will go up. Within a year, when the good things begin to happen, and the bad things they’re saying will happen don’t happen, approval will explode.”

But, also, this just is what the Senate does. On all the biggest bills, they have a tendency to take out the meatiest part. Cram down was stripped from the foreclosure-prevention bill by the Senate, card-check has been taken out of EFCA, cap-and-trade appears ready to be dropped from the energy bill, and now this. All of these things are the elements that represent the biggest challenge to the status quo. They are the mechanisms that actually apply pressure where things need to be changed.

Here’s Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Nation”:

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  • FallenMorgan 08/17/2009 6:56am

    I’ve had my doubts about health care. It might be good, but it would only serve to expand federal power. I just wish people would listen to official sources instead of anonymous emails. Then we wouldn’t have freaks saying “Death to Obama.”

  • Anonymous 08/17/2009 7:11am

    Great post. The President, who has a tendency to compromise long before it is necessary, needs to “win” this one and if it means throwing out the most significant part of bill (with respect to insurance reform), he’ll have to do it. All we can hope for is that there are enough provisions in the bill to alleviate some of the insurance costs and move our system from pay for service to pay for results. We already have the VA, and to an extent, Medicare to prove that socialized medicine can work, perhaps co-ops will help to move us is the single-payer direction over time. We can be sure that a Republican administration would do whatever is necessary to prevent the success of the reform in any case, so the long term success, and succession, of this administration is far more important than a single victory.

  • Anonymous 08/17/2009 7:56am

    No!!! A public option is necessary to remove or lessen the for profit attitude indurance companies have on our healthcare. Today Health insurance companies work hard to give you less care for your premiums to increase their profit margins. A public option changes that to more service for your money. Even if it means you get more than the money you contributed inn order to keep you alive. Today the business of health insurance rather you die than lose profit.

  • Anonymous 08/17/2009 8:01am

    Its time for President Obama to act like a president and kick the conservatives to the curb. Get the bill the people want on the floor and let the Democrats and Independents vote on it. There’s a reason why Obama won 9 Republican states. Give control back to the people, not the corporations.

  • Comm_reply
    Anonymous 08/17/2009 1:16pm

    Why do you want the government control that will come with the public option? WHY?

  • Anonymous 08/17/2009 8:50am

    Right on! Look where these lying right wing talk show hosts have put us…on the defensive for what was supposed to be the fall back position (the Public Option). We started out talking about a single payer universal health care system. Now it appears we’re negotiating away the Public Option for some watered down NFP insurance plan! That’s where BCBS got its start! Of course, none of these problems with our so-called democracy will ever be truly resolved until we eliminate private special interest funding of our politicians. But that’s one gravy train that we’re not likely to ever derail. Hell, the Supreme Court is about to declare McCain-Feingold unconstitutional to make it even easier for large corporations to control our “elected officials.” If we lose this health care battle with this President and this congress, then I will have lost all hope that any meaningful change can ever be accomplished.

  • abaratar 08/17/2009 12:11pm
    Link Reply
    + -1

    “The White House, facing increasing skepticism over President Obama’s call for a public insurance plan to compete with the private sector, signaled Sunday that it was willing to compromise and would consider a proposal for a nonprofit health cooperative being developed in the Senate.”

    You do realize they are talking Kaiser Permanente type companies but with more regulation

  • Anonymous 08/17/2009 7:26pm

    If we had all Americans in a single payer plan it just might save money because the number of healthy would far outnumber those making claims. That is what insurance is all about if premiums are to be reasonable. Short of that we are just rearranging deck chairs with Big Insurance, Big Pharma and Big Medicine swapping the proceeds around a bit but remaining in the pink. We do need the drug companies and we do need the hospitals and medical partnerships because they are innovative and entrepreneurial, but the insurance companies are offering nothing while taking a generous slice in profit for it. Insurance is a very basic service that involves gathering statistics and spreading the costs of claims among all policy holders. Uncle Sam could do it just fine with the advantage of one team of bureaucrats, one administrative structure and no upper management or skyscrapers required.

    It isn’t going to happen.

  • Anonymous 08/18/2009 7:41am

    Get public option idiot

  • elisarivera 08/18/2009 11:49am

    Despite the fact that I pay way too much for health care every year, I still think that a public option gives the government too much control. This country was founded on the principle that the people, not the government, should have control. Anonymous said “Its time for President Obama to act like a president and kick the conservatives to the curb. Get the bill the people want on the floor and let the Democrats and Independents vote on it.” Obviously (look at the polls) this is not what the people want. Besides, democracy means Republicans can vote too.

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  • Moderated Comment

  • Anonymous 09/01/2009 2:45pm

    First: I don’t understand why some people are so against a public health insurance option. It’s just that, an option. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Second: And so what if the Federal Government has the ability to pool costs nation wide allowing them to negotiate lower rates (lower than any private company would be able to do). Isn’t the goal of the reform to drive down the exploding cost of health care. Wouldn’t the public option accomplish that better than the private sector?

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