Durbin 'Open' to Dropping the Public OptionAugust 9, 2009 - by Donny Shaw
Another sign that the leaders of the Democratic party are giving up on the passing the public option:
The No. 2 Senate Democrat said Sunday that he’s “open” to health care reform that doesn’t include a government-run “public option,” the latest indication that the Democrats’ package could be scaled back as Senate negotiators try to hammer out a bipartisan compromise and constituents flood town halls to express discontent with the current legislation.
The so-called public option is a hot topic of debate at town hall meetings across the country. Supporters say it’s needed to keep private insurance companies in check and extend affordable coverage to all. Critics warn that the government should not have so much control over health care and that a public option could eventually eliminate private insurance.
The Senate Finance Committee, the last of five committees to consider health care legislation, is trying to hammer out a bipartisan compromise by mid-September — such a compromise might leave the public option behind.
Asked whether Democrats could support such a bill, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said he’s personally willing to consider it.
“It doesn’t have to be a perfect bill,” the Illinois Democrat said. “I support a public option, but, yes, I am open.”
The idea behind the public option is that if the government is able to offer better, cheaper health insurance than the private companies, it would provide some competition and help to lower the costs of private plans. Without the public option, the Democrats’ health care reform proposal looks a lot like the system Massachusetts has in place. People would be required to get insurance, but for those above the lowest income brackets who aren’t eligible for subsidies, the cost of buying insurance wouldn’t actually go down at all.
That would mean that a person who makes $44,000 and is not eligible for government subsidies would have to buy insurance at essentially the current market rates ($2,613 is the national average for an individual plan, according to this report) or pay a tax penalty as assessed under the bill of 2.5 percent of income. For someone making $44,000, the tax penalty would be $1,100, less than half the cost of buying an insurance plan. By adding some competition to the health insurance market, the public option could help to close this gap, which could go a long way towards encouraging middle-income people to choose to buy insurance instead of paying the tax.
Watch the clip from Sen. Durbin’s appearance on CNN’s “State of the Nation”: