White House Opens Possibility of Reform Without Public Option
Over the weekend, the Obama administration indicated that it would be willing to accept health reform legislation that does not include a public plan option, a provision long considered the cornerstone of the Democratic health care overhaul, the New York Times reports.
During a town-hall meeting on Saturday in Grand Junction, Colo., President Obama said that a public option "is not the entirety of health care reform," but rather "just one sliver of it, one aspect of it."
In an interview on CNN Sunday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that the public option was "not the essential element" for reform. She also said that not-for-profit health cooperatives were being developed by the Senate Finance Committee as an alternative to a public option (Stolberg, New York Times, 8/17).
Sebelius reiterated the importance of choice and competition, adding, "I'm convinced at the end of the day, the plan will have both of those" (Connolly, Washington Post, 8/17).
Gibbs Weighs In
Appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, "What we have to have is choice and competition in the insurance market."
Gibbs continued that Obama still believes that "the option of a government plan is the best way to provide" choice and competition, but if the legislation achieves that by other means "the president will be satisfied" (Zajac, Los Angeles Times, 8/17).
Sen. Conrad Offers His Thoughts
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), one of the six senators working on the Finance Committee's bipartisan health reform bill, said on "Fox News Sunday" that "the fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the U.S. Senate for the public option, there never have been. So to continue to chase that rabbit is, I think, a wasted effort" (Swanson, The Hill, 8/16).
Conrad said that his proposal to create a co-op health care system is "the only plan that has bipartisan support," because it is "membership-run and membership-controlled" and "does provide a nonprofit competitor for the for-profit insurance companies" (Silvassy, CQ HealthBeat, 8/16).
Prospects for a Public Plan
According to a Democrat close to the administration, "The president is going to continue to try to persuade everyone of the great value of having a true public plan," but "at the end of the day, I believe he recognizes that there are other, arguably less effective, ways to achieve greater coverage, more choice, better quality and lower cost in our system."
According to the Times, Obama could counter GOP criticism that he prefers a "government takeover" of the health care system by abandoning the public option, but he would do so at the risk of upsetting liberal Democrats who strongly favor such a provision (New York Times, 8/17).
Resistance Among Democrats
Some lawmakers already have expressed their displeasure over the administration's comments on the public option, the Post reports.
Howard Dean, head of Democracy for America and former chair of the Democratic National Committee, said, "I don't think this bill is worth passing without a public option" (Washington Post, 8/17).
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said, "I believe the inclusion of a strong public plan option in health reform legislation is a must," adding that it "is the only proven way to guarantee that all consumers have affordable, meaningful and accountable options available in the health insurance marketplace" (New York Times, 8/17).Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told CNN that it "would be very, very difficult without the public option" for her and other liberals to support health reform legislation (Budoff Brown, Politico, 8/16). Johnson added, "Without the public option, we'll have the same number of people uninsured" because if "the insurance companies wanted to insure these people now, they'd be insured" (Lengell, Washington Times, 8/17). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.