Since taking office, President Obama hasn't said much about a key plank of health care reform—the public health insurance option. Some worried he had backed off from his support of it. Yesterday, all that changed. Obama said: "I strongly believe that Americans should have the choice of a public health insurance option operating alongside private plans. This will give them a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep insurance companies honest."
This is a huge deal. It's Obama using some of his massive political capital to take a crucial stand. And it's going to make a bunch of Republicans and insurance company lobbyists pretty angry at him. In fact, they're spending $20 million to crush this key part of his plan. A public health insurance option is the heart of real health care reform.
The top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee — a moderate who is seen as the leading figure on Congressional proposals to create a national healthcare mandate — says that his bill is almost certain to include a public healthcare option, in a blow to the managed care industry and a possible major victory for progressives.
“I think a bill that passes the Senate will have some version of a public option,” said Montana Sen. Max Baucus, the Senate Finance Chairman. His remarks come two days after President Barack Obama signaled in a letter that a public competitor to the private health insurance companies was a key part of his agenda.
Of course, the measure will still have to pass the full Senate. Republicans are vehemently opposed to a public healthcare plan, saying it will interfere with the markets and handicap existing private insurance companies.
“Despite the happy talk from the four Senators about progress and compromise, Baucus’ concession that a government-run, public insurance option will likely be included in the reform bill could sink its bipartisan support,” Roll Call’s David Drucker wrote late Thursday. “Additional items are also making compromise difficult, including the issues of government mandates and how to pay for it.”
“Our caucus is very much against [a public plan.] It’s kind of a litmus test,” ranking Senate Finance Committee Republican Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said. “That’s all you can say. There’s no follow-up question that you can ask me. There’s no further statement I can make about it.”
The creation of a public healthcare option could revolutionize health care in America. As the President also said yesterday, "In 2009, health care reform is not a luxury. It's a necessity we cannot defer."
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