The Public Option: A Look At Defenders, Opponents, And Its Chances

Posted in General by TBartine on August 19, 2009 No Comments yet

Having moved on from the debate on imaginary “death panels,” the public option of the health care reform bill is squarely in the sights of anti-reform critics.  Therefore, I felt we should dedicate some time here to the public option, examined by itself:


  • A new, government-sponsored insurance policy that individuals may select instead of one of the many private insurance company policies.  Designed to make sure that more of the 40 million uninsured Americans can get insurance, and to force private insurance companies to start offering better service at more reasonable rates in order to compete against the new public insurance.


  • First, it is not free…it’s cheap, because it will be subsidized.  Second, it is not a “government takeover of healthcare“…all of the hospitals, doctors, nurses, drug companies, and insurance companies will continue to stay as they are…it just that some patients will be filing claims with a new “insurance provider.“  Third, it is not replacing private insurance…you are not forced to go on it, you can keep your existing plan, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s report clearly states that it will not drive private insurers out of business.


  • Regardless of your media source, whether it be any of the TV networks, cable news, newspapers, or radio…you’re likely hearing that the public option is in “trouble.”  In fact, almost all news outlets seem determined (as in this article) to paint the option as a “losing battle,” and a recent CBS/Wall Street Journal poll showed overwhelming public opposition to the government-run plan.
  • Oh, but wait…turns out that CBS\Wall Street Poll…the question was reworded to remove the word “choice.”  Why would the pollster want to give the impression in the poll question that people would be FORCED onto the public plan?  Oh yeah…he’s worked extensively for America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), an organization that opposes the public option, and who he lists as a current client.   Wendell Potter, former vice president of insurance giant CIGNA, remarked, “I think it’s a very big deal to drop the wordThis has been a strategy the industry has had for many years. They ask questions in many ways, knowing the way they are asking the questions will skew the result. Dropping the word choice is very important. It plays into some of the fears some of the people have been hearing lately, that the government would leave them without an option.”  Curiously, the same poll showed that the majority of Americans have widespread misconceptions about what is actually in the reform bill…and at the same time the poll was CREATING misconceptions.  FYI:  Most polls, not run by men working for big insurance, show OVERWHELMING public support for the public option…see here.
  • But one corrupt pollster doesn’t seem to explain why ALL of the media seems to be wishing for the public option’s demise.  Tommy Christopher at Mediaite has a theory:  One, they are run by megalithic corporate entities who are (in general) against reform…two, they will seize on anything that they can hype to fill a slow news day.  On the latter suggestion, they took “throwaway lines” from Press Secretary Gibbs and Health Secretary Sibelius, where they commented that there would still be a reform bill even if the public option was removed.  As Christopher points out, this is a question they get asked a million times a day, and the correct political answer to it is always, “the bill is still valuable without the public option.“  This is then hyped by the media as, “Obama Administration Gives Up On Public Option!!!“  More realistically, when Obama and friends make such statements, they just don’t want to give Republicans the satisfaction of thinking “if we kill the public option, Obama can’t declare a health care reform victory.


  • The Liberal Media: From Rachel Maddow to Keith Olbermann, the message is clear:  The public option is the very HEART of the reform, because with out it, the insurance companies keep doing exactly as they are, and the uninsured…stay uninsured, and we continue towards another economic crisis because of it.  No longer are the fingers pointed solely at the Republican opponents of the option, and liberal pundits are increasingly calling on the Obama administration to abandon bipartisan efforts (which won’t gain even one Republican vote) and to get their fellow Democrats behind the bill through whatever convincing/coercing is required.  Here’s Rachel:

  • The Unions: The unions, like the AFL-CIO have been spending money to support the option through TV spots, and have been organizing counter-protests at town halls.  Now, they have sent a clear reminder to the White House and Congress:  “we voted you in, and we can vote you out.”  If Democrats fail to show the proper backbone on this issue…the much-needed support of organized labor during the next election, MAY NOT BE THERE.
  • The Big Dems: Health Secretary Sibelius has restated that, while she did say that loss of the option does not equal total defeat (again, what else is she going to say?) that its inclusion is still top priority.  House Speaker Pelosi has said that the House Democrats stand firmly in favor of the public option.  President Obama…has finally given the task of “Democrat-arm-twisting” to Vice President Joe Biden.  And now…there is even talk of bring Big Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton into the fight, as their active support for the option will sway many legislators AND citizens.
  • The Administration: Duh…it’s their baby.
  • The Liberal Dems: The number is 60 and growing…60 members of the House sent a letter to President Obama saying that the public option is SO important, that they won’t support the bill WITHOUT it.  Senators Rockefeller and Feingold, as well as Representatives Weiner and Pelosi have been vocal and active in leading the charge amongst the legislative “ground troops.
  • Liberal Activists: They are making phone calls, writing letters, and even managed to raise over $100,000 in 24 hours in support of the public option.  Their message is simple:  screw Chuck Grassley and compromising that won’t earn any GOP votes…go it alone and do it right. And…Congress seems to be listening and coming around to this way of thinking.
  • And…most people in the United States…


  • Conservative Media: No big surprise…when even the mainstream media is having fun predicting the death of the public option, we can only expect Fox, Drudge, Rush, and others to be having a FIELD DAY over it.
  • Some (but not all) Blue Dog Dems: Many conservative “Blue Dog” Dems have been brought into the fold through a series of talks and minor concessions…but not all of them.  Senator Max Baucus, having received more money from the health industry lately than any other legislator…is, not surprisingly, dragging his feet and continues to abandon quality portions of the plan to appease Senator Grassley.  Senator Kent Conrad has started pimping the “co-op” idea (see below) and claims that there are not enough Democratic Senate votes to pass the bill (although his assertions are clearly not backed up by facts).  Representative Jim Cooper of Tennessee has also jumped on the vaguely-defined “co-op bandwagon.”  And of course…there’s Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle…not really a “Blue Dog,” but he might as well be, since he’s totally in the health care industry’s hip pocket.
  • The Insurance Companies: Duh…they hate it.  They’d have to lower costs, improve their crappy service, and stop making multi-billion dollar profits by cutting sick people off their rolls.
  • Republicans: Senator Grassley has become the poster child for GOP obstinacy.  He is supposed to be “negotiating” with Democrats in the Senate…but he insists on spreading clear falsehoods about the bill, then calls Obama and Pelosi “intellectually dishonest,” and then essentially admits that he won’t vote for the plan NO MATTER WHAT is conceded by Democrats.
  • NEW GROUP – Co-op Advocates: Nobody really knows what they are…how they work…if they work…if it would be government-run or non-profit…how many people would need to be in it for it to be able to compete.  But not knowing any of the details or facts hasn’t stopped health care reform opponents before!  IRONY ALERT: It is odd…so many oppose the “public option” because they see it as a form of “socialism,” and some of these same people are now shouting “what about co-ops!“  Perhaps they don’t realize that co-ops…collectives…unions…are actually elements of, <<gasp>>, COMMUNISM.  Ooops…
  • And…a minority of people in the United States:


  • Good question…and depending on who you listen to, its chances range from “dead certain to be included” to “no way, no how, no chance.”  I guess we’ll just all have to wait and see…