Feature

Health care: No ‘public option’?

What it means if the Obama team is backing away from government-run competition to private insurance

With Democrats like these, “who needs Republicans?” said Alan Colmes in Liberaland. The Obama administration is signaling its willingness to neuter health-care reform legislation by abandoning the government-run public option to private insurance. That’s not “compromise”—the public option itself was a compromise on single-payer health care—it’s Obama and the Democrats letting the GOP and conservative Blue Dog Democrats “railroad them.”

Don’t believe “the Sunday spin” on this “alleged ‘retreat’ from the Obamacare public option,” said conservative blogger Michelle Malkin. Recent White House comments aren’t a “white flag,” but a “trial balloon to measure the potential nutroots backlash versus the potential Senate pick-ups.” Watch: Obama will try to slip the provision into the final bill.

No, the public option is probably “really dead,” said Nate Silver in FiveThirtyEight. Or rather, it was probably never “alive,” in that it never had the 60 votes to beat a filibuster in the Senate. Obama seems to be betting that small reform is better than none, and for “near-term political” reasons, he might be right—progressive Democrats take note.

Without the already “dumbed-down and neutered” public option, what’s the point? said John Nichols in The Nation. There would be no real reform, just a sop to the insurance and drug industries, which would get more customers, and taxpayer dollars, without more competition. That’s not just toothless, it’s “a step in the wrong direction.”

Despite passions on both sides of the debate, the public option is a “red herring,” said Richard Thaler in The New York Times, and an obstacle to “genuine reform.” The goal is to deal with our large uninsured population and lower overall costs. A public option would either be “too small to notice” or too anti-competitve to be helpful. It’s not worth “losing the war” over.

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