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Lieberman Doesn't Understand the Public Option

October 28, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

Sen. Joseph Lieberman [I, CT] went on Fox this afternoon to restate what it would take for him to break from a Republican filibuster and allow an up-or-down vote on the Senate’s health care bill. Via The Hill:

“Just take this government-created, government-run health insurance company that will cost the taxpayers, premium payers and the debt a lot of money — take it off the table,” Lieberman said.

This is basically how he talked about the public option yesterday as well. Thing is, he seems to completely misunderstand what the public option actually is and how it would work.

Taking his statement point-by-point, he is correct that it would in fact be a “government-created, government-run health insurance company.” But he’s wrong on the other points. The public option would not cost taxpayers or the debt a cent. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has repeatedly scored public option plans as saving the government money. The bigger and more “robust” the plan, the more it saves. And as for Lieberman’s claim that it would cost premium payers, CBO has estimated that it would save premium payers up to 10% on the cost of their insurance.

As I’ve stated repeatedly on this blog, the public option is entirely funded by taxpayer premiums. It is not an entitlement program, like Lieberman claimed it was yesterday, and it is not run with federal funds. Both the House Tri-Committee bill and the Senate HELP bill that includes a public option provide start up money ($2 bln in the House bill, unspecified in the HELP bill) for the public option but require it to be payed back in full over a 10-year period.

The House bill even contains the following paragraphs in its start-up funding section just to make it extra clear that the federal funds are limited to start-up costs and that no other federal funds can be appropriated to it, even to save it if it’s failing:

C) LIMITATION ON FUNDING- Nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing any additional appropriations to the Account, other than such amounts as are otherwise provided with respect to other Exchange-participating health benefits plans.

(3) NO BAILOUTS- In no case shall the public health insurance option receive any Federal funds for purposes of insolvency in any manner similar to the manner in which entities receive Federal funding under the Troubled Assets Relief Program of the Secretary of the Treasury.

The final Senate bill that Lieberman will be voting on is not publicly available yet, but you can be sure that it will include similar limitations on federal funding for the public option. As soon as it’s available, I’ll find the bill text relating to funding for the public option and post it to this blog for all to read.

Meanwhile, faced with Lieberman’s opposition to a public option plan that doesn’t even exist, Democratic leaders are reminding the world that they still have an procedural option available that would make Lieberman irrelevant — budget reconciliation — and they’re not afraid to use it.

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  • RetiredPublicSafetydotCom 10/28/2009 10:49am

    It seems like no one is addressing the issue of the Constitutionality of the federal government being a health insurance company.

    A freedom analogy:
    Let’s say the government has mandated everyone must buy hamburgers, and the government bails out McDonalds and begins running this restaurant. If I don’t like to eat the government burgers, I can eat at Burger King. However, if I don’t want or need a hamburger I can no longer choose to not buy one. If the government mandates something, I have lost freedom in that area. McDonalds et al can advertise all they want but they do not have the boot of the IRS to put to your throat in order to compel you to comply or to pay.

    If the government mandates health insurance, I am being penalized (forced to pay) for something I may not want or need, or be forced to pay a higher premium if my current plan is deemed “unacceptable” as it was under HR 3200 after I spent 2 days reading it to determine this information. Health insurance is not a right.

  • Comm_reply
    tginmn 10/28/2009 8:21pm

    Who do you expect to pay your medical bills when you have a stroke or heart atack? The Consitituionalty of government run health insurance has been ruled on by the Suprement Court several times. I would support your right to not carry health insurance if you will sign a contract that states we don’t have to treat you.

  • Comm_reply


    I pay for my home, my cars, etc. Health care is no different. I do not think the government should support me. I am double-taxed by the IRS, so I support the government more than they support me. If I desire to have health insurance, which I do, I evaluate the cost and benefits of each available plan. Just as with any other consumable item, I shop for the best deal. For example, if you need a new phone, you can go out and buy the latest & greatest for $800, or you can buy more basic model for $200. Both perform the same function and the $200 phone works perfectly for a majority. If you are mandated to buy the $800 phone but receive a $700 government subsidy, yes it may appear cheaper but who is paying the $700? Cash for Clunkers was an excellent example of this, and the tripling of the amount allocated in a couple of weeks illustrated how bad ideas can get worse very quickly. (Part 1 of 2)

  • Comm_reply
    Anonymous 10/30/2009 3:16pm

    Dear Me<
    It just occured to me that you are not hurting, because you havent lost your job, but are retired. Just because you do not want the healthcare, too bad. It is people like you that keep the poor and needy from getting the human services they need to succeed in life. You worked for the government, from your little comment thats what you said you did for a living, well we all know that you and your family get the best benefits. Why dont you spend some of your free time and volunteer at the hospital where I work!! You can be the one to tell the people that need life threatening treatment that they cannot get it because they cant afford or do not have health insurance. And sit by a dying childs bed with that childs parents, knowing that child could have been helped.

    Until you live it, shut up about it!!! I have seen enough over the past twenty years as a nurse to make me want to vomit, when I hear people like you, voice your Republican selfish ass opinion!!

  • Comm_reply
    spender 10/29/2009 5:38am

    “It seems like no one is addressing the issue of the Constitutionality of the federal government being a health insurance company.”

    If the government can be a bank, it can be an insurance company.

  • Comm_reply

    (Part 2 of 2)
    If health care has been ruled on several times, why is it so important now? Was it not important in 1791? 1850? 1950? What makes 2009 so critical?

    As for “profit”, I can’t understand paying an athlete millions of dollars to play in a recreational activity, or paying an actor hundreds of thousands of dollars per episode to play a role in a TV show. I don’t decry their ability to do so, as this is the market value of their work product. Likewise, I don’t decry “excessive” profits made by insurance or drug companies. If someone else can do it for less, they should be able to.

    If you cannot see how the government forcing you to buy something you don’t want or forcing you to buy more than you need curtails your freedom (and likely your income), we will have to agree to disagree and take it up at the ballot box in 2010.

  • Comm_reply
    Anonymous 10/30/2009 3:20pm

    You need to read the paragraph above I wrote to another individual, cause it probably fits you too.

  • Comm_reply
    nicholas 10/29/2009 10:33am

    I think you are confusing the public option and the mandate. The mandate to buy care does limit people’s freedom of choice to some degree, (though I think the fact that everyone already has access to emergency rooms means that we’ve decided as a society that everyone should be a part of the health system in one way or another). But the public option is completely distinct from the mandate— you could have a public option with or without the mandate. As for the government being a health insurance company, Medicare and Medicaid are already two huge examples of this, so unless you want to shut down Medicare, I don’t see how the public option changes the constitutionality question.

  • Comm_reply
    Anonymous 10/30/2009 3:25pm

    Finally someone knows what he is talking about. But as a nurse I express to everyone that reads your blog that I have seen children die because their family cannot pay for the surgery they need, or even a young adult. I have also worked as what they call an MDS Nurse. I strictly did medicare and medicaid billing, you are right it is government run, and it needs much improvement, but atleast people get the care they need.

  • RetiredPublicSafetydotCom 10/28/2009 11:01am

    A Constitutional analogy:
    If health care/insurance is a Constitutional right, then what about firearms? If the government is subsidizing health insurance, should not the government subsidize my purchase of a firearm since ownership actually is a Constitutional right?

    The answer is neither! The government should not be subsidizing either insurance or firearms purchases or mandating the purchase of either.

    A secondary issue of any funding is spending money we do not have. The federal debt is at an all-time high of around $12 trillion dollars. It is just not financially prudent to continue to spend money such as the $2 billion mentioned above (start up cost) when one is that far in debt.

    Consider this:
    I have monthly expenses & my credit cards are maxed out. Is it a good idea to spend several thousand for a new car? Is it prudent for me to get credit with the same (or less) income in order to spend money? If it is not a good idea for me, how can it be a good idea for our nation?

  • Comm_reply
    tginmn 10/28/2009 8:31pm

    TheCBO has said that the Public Option will actually drive down the costs of Medicare/Medicad which will in turn reduce the defecit.

    With out a strong public opton are country will continue the downward sprial we have entered. The current GDP is about 18% for health care and is projected to grow to 20% in two years. Many of our jobs have been lost to foriegn countris beause of the hight cost of medical insurance to our workers.

    The trillion $ cost over ten years is far less than the worthless wars in Iraq and Afganhistan. 44,000 American die each year becaue they lack insurance. That is 11 times more than died on 9/11 and this is happening every year.

  • Comm_reply
    Anonymous 10/30/2009 3:29pm

    I cannot believe that you would compare a dying child needing medical care, with the fact you cant buy a gun. I thought I had heard it all!! Your a selfish person, go visit a hospital and see what children and young adults need help with!! You should be ashamed!!! Like we really need more guns in this world. Do the world a favor and go get and education, I am a nurse, maybe you should become one so you can truly see the light!!

  • Anonymous 10/28/2009 11:11am

    And that’s a single way to look at it. Is health care (not insurance, which is a financing mechanism) a right? I believe I lot of people feel that health care is a right. We’re (as a country) are focusing on providing an alternative financing mechanism. The goal of universal health care is to gather everyone, what we’re essentially doing is choosing how to finance that goal. Do we leave it to the private sector who’s goals are profits, or do we create at least a singular national not for profit insurance company? If the “free market” has failed to produce the desired results why should we force people in their profit folds? The answer is that we shouldn’t without the kind of choice that would be provided by a public option. A public option is still funded by premiums but it cuts overhead by eliminating the need for profits. And the plan has protections for the Tax payer to make sure we’re not funding something that should be self-sufficient. I can’t really see a problem with that.

  • Comm_reply
    Link Reply
    + -1

    Please realize that those For-Profit Health Care Insurance companies are attempting to channel any Public Option Health Care legislation to a government run program, because insuring the unemployed and seriously ill is not profitable.
    The only logical way to finance a serious Health Care Reform is via a National Health Care program like the Single Payer!!!!! Economies of Scale are a must to finance any Health Care Reform.
    The only LOGICALLY FINANCIALLY SOUND approach is the Single Payer National Health Care approach. That’s what we need now and it’s a great time to do it.

  • Anonymous 10/28/2009 11:55am
    Link Reply
    + -1

    The best article I have seen takes a whole new twist on this issue which every American should read (see Healthcare: A Trojan Horse Ride To Marxism: ). I for find all these so called plans and maybe plans and amendments and maybe pass conference amendments and the whole game confusing at best. There seems to be nothing but propaganda on this issue so I agree with Repubs/Lieberman’s filibuster. Let’s kill this bill, give the public a rest until next year, then start fresh with a new and clean bill that better reflects the will and needs of the people and not the elites and radicals—-a bill we can all examine in writing in the light of day.

    It looks like whatever passes will not be the bill anyone, even the radicals, had intended or wanted. This is too critical to get wrong.

  • Anonymous 10/28/2009 12:03pm
    Link Reply
    + -1

    I am so sick of hearing about a nonprofit provider solution as though that was any different from a government provider. I have worked in both the commercial sector and the nonprofit sector and by far the most efficient and smartly run in the commercial sector. Nonprofit is just another word for non-accountability.

    A single payer system is a system without competition. Name one monopoly that gets it right. Only the forces of competition can trim out what does not work and keep what does. Profit is the motivation for efficiency. That is why government care currently cost a large percentage more than private healthcare and why our healthcare costs are rising out of control and why this issue is being addressed in the first place. Single systems are failures.

  • Anonymous 10/28/2009 1:17pm

    I am so sick of hearing about the free market as the solution to this problem. The free market did not prevent this from being a problem. Efficiency is a matter of perspective. It is much more efficient for the profiteers to pocket our premiums and not pay out for services. It’s even more efficient for them to raise our premiums and raise our deductibles then lower our coverage or drop it all together. Then there is the guy who says, “if I don’t want or need a hamburger I can no longer choose to not buy one.” How is health care less constitutional than Social Security? It seems to me it is more constitutional. After all, your chances of reaching old age are improved with access to medical care. We are all human beings.

  • Comm_reply

    It is unfortunate you did not understand my hamburger analogy.

    What percentage of your income do you pay in taxes? Mine is 34% since I retired thanks to what the IRS calls a penalty based on my age and my election to manage my retirement account. I worked 25 years as a policeman, so I’m certainly not wealthy.

    The Constitution spells out enumerated powers of the Federal government. The clause most often cited for social programs (like Social Security and now health care) is the general welfare of the nation. This phrase has been interpreted in two ways- welfare meaning providing for the individual when they are unable to do so, or welfare for the nation as a whole. I subscribe to the latter view.

    Under the former view, at some point, this concept can be expanded to things we use on a daily basis like electricity and food (state programs already address these). My concern is where does it stop at the federal level?

  • Anonymous 10/28/2009 2:45pm

    “Meanwhile, faced with Lieberman’s opposition to a public option plan that doesn’t even exist, Democratic leaders are reminding the world that they still have an procedural option available that would make Lieberman irrelevant — budget reconciliation — and they’re not afraid to use it.”

    You’ll find that the states have a procedural option available that would make Congress (in this issue) irrelevant — willfully ignoring unconstitutional health care legislation.

  • Anonymous 10/28/2009 8:03pm

    Mr Lieberman is power play his own political game at the critical juncture. His purpose is to destroy President Obama’s efforts at all cost and so he see that here is his opportunity. Between him and the President are not competency issues, political differences or any business per-se, rather a personal one. When he stood up and spoke for John McCain during the Presidential Election, it was not because McCain is more competent or political preference. It is more because he didn’t want to see Obama as a President, …and that at all costs.

  • Anonymous 10/29/2009 8:48am

    The CBO score for the health care takeover (it’s not reform; reform connotes improvement) is a sham. Its claim of reducing future budget deficits was achieved only through dishonestly assuming that Congress will implement a 21% reduction in Medicare payments that is scheduled under current law. Congress has been supposed to make those reductions since 2003, and never has. Now—surprise, surprise—Democrats have introduced a bill (S. 1776) to eliminate the scheduled cut, at a cost of $247 billion. But Democrats cleverly are putting the new spending in a separate bill, so it won’t change scoring of the health care takeover.

  • LibertyGirl_2009 10/29/2009 5:54pm

    Anyone who thinks a single payer system will work obviously has no idea how a business is run. Without competition, people and businesses become complacent. We have so many examples already that I just don’t understand how people can continue to think our government can run health care. My stance is that we need to vote all of those people out and get some representatives who have actually worked in the real world, have common sense, and some business acumen. Please help in voting in common sense.

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