Weekly Pulse: Public Option on Life Support

Will healthcare reform include a public health insurance plan to
compete with private health insurance? President Obama campaigned on
the promise of a public option, but over the past week he and his top
advisers have repeatedly signaled that they aren’t willing to fight for

On Saturday, Obama
told a town hall meeting in Colorado: "Whether we have it or we don’t
have it, [the public option] is not the entirety of health care reform.
This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it."

"I don’t understand why the left of the left has decided that this is their Waterloo," an unnamed senior White House official gripes in this morning’s Washington Post.

The White House is sorely mistaken if it thinks that the public
option belongs in the "nice but not necessary" category. Josh Holland
of AlterNet explains why the public option is the pillar of healthcare reform. Without it, there’s little hope of containing costs or reigning in the power of insurance companies:

It may be just one "aspect" of health
reform, but without it, the legislation promises to be a massive
rip-off; a taxpayer give-away of hundreds of billions of dollars to an
unreformed ‘disease care’ industry.

The industry would get millions of new
customers thanks to generous government subsidies and a law requiring
that (almost) everyone carry insurance. And that windfall would come
without the structural changes needed to bend the medical "cost curve"
in years to come – without any provisions that might endanger the
industry’s bottom line.

In Salon, Robert Reich agrees. Competition between private insurance companies and the public option is the only hope to controlling costs.
A public plan could bargain with providers to reduce costs and pass the
savings on to taxpayers. The private insurance industry would have to
slash its prices to compete.

Without a public option, "reform" would likely involve subsidies to
private insurance companies, temporarily dulling the pain as premiums
rise unchecked. That’s the worst of both worlds.

Progressives shouldn’t be surprised at the White House’s
noncommittal stance, though. Obama campaigned on a public option, but
he has always framed it a darned good idea, not as a non-negotiable

Why is it so difficult
to get a healthcare bill through the Senate with the supposedly
filibuster-proof majority? The simple answer is that the Dems need 100%
of their delegation to cooperate in order to break a filibuster. So,
the Democrats have 60 seats in the Senate but no way to advance their
agenda without capitulating to the conservative Blue Dogs. The
Republicans can be counted on to filibuster whatever the Democrats come
up with. Which means that conservative Democrats like Sen. Max Baucus
(D-Mont.) hold the balance of power.

As Ari Melber of The Nation explains, Baucus and his Republican counterpart Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also rule over the powerful and conservative Senate Finance Committee, which has been tasked with writing the Senate version of the healthcare bill.

Also in The Nation, Tom Geoghegan argues that it’s time to break the stranglehold by abolishing the procedural filibuster.
Unlimited debate in the Senate is enshrined in the constitution. In an
old school filibuster, senators simply refuse to shut up until the
session ends and the bill dies without a vote. In 1975, a group of
liberals wrote a rule of Senate procedure that effectively allows
senators to "filibuster" simply by saying they want to. In the old
days, a filibuster was a grueling public ordeal. Senators slept on cots
and spelled each other off. Today, "filibustering" means signing a
form. It’s private, easy and cost-free. The Republicans can, and will,
filibuster all major Democratic legislation without having to stand in
public and risk being branded as obstructionists.

As a result, 60 is the new 50 in the Senate. Since it’s just a rule,
the procedural filibuster could be abolished by a simple majority vote.
Friends of the filibuster defend it as a bulwark against tyranny.
Abolishing the procedural filibuster would discourage frivolous
obstructionism, but keep the old school filibuster for cases when
legislators actually care enough to lose sleep over it.

Ever wonder why the strongest public option, single-payer, was never
on the table? Maybe because even the strongest proponents of the public
plan are taking money from the insurance and biomedical industries. Mother Jones Rachel Morris wants to know why UNITEDHealth consultant Tom Daschle
was on Meet the Press Sunday. A former Democratic senator, Daschle is a
senior adviser to Obama on healthcare reform and a leading advocate of
a public plan. However, he recently resumed a private consulting
arrangement with UNITEDHealth, America’s largest health insurer.  Even
public plan champion Howard Dean
is a strategic adviser on healthcare policy to the lobby firm of
McKenna, Long, and Aldridge. Dean won’t disclose his clients, but
McKenna represents a number of clients in the biomedical and health
science industries.

The prospects of a public option are dimming, but not necessarily
because of any rapid about-face by the White House. The Senate bill is
in the hands of the Blue Dogs, who say they won’t have legislation
until November. Obama won’t put the screws to the Blue Dogs, but
there’s still plenty of time to for citizens to make their voices heard.

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  • truth

    Lindsay, trust me you don’t want the government healthcare option at all. Look at Canada and the U.K. – most of the citizens of these countries like our current system (although flawed) better than their own. Unless Obama can explain the bill it isn’t going to make it – with or without a “Public Option.” By the way, once the government is involved it will only be a matter of time before the private insuarance companies either become part of the government or get out of the business altogether. You must look at the core of the “Healthcare Disease” if you want to solve the problem. The reason that Healthcare is so expensive in the first place is becuase of Insurance. So, to resolve the problem you take insurance off the table completely – that’s right – ABOLISH INSURANCE! What will happen? Well, like any disease that your trying to eradicate there will be pain involved. Doctors, Hospitals, and Medical Equipment Producers will cry and cry and cry. Why? Because what they will be forced to do is to cut their costs to meet equilibrium (i.e. with the supply of $$$ less the costs will need to meet the new LOWER supply). This is Economics 101 – Supply and Demand. The Government Healthcare Plan only increases the already gigantic POOL of money. More supply of money = higher costs of healthcare. By the way, the same holds true for college education in the U.S. Right now there is a subsidy for college tuition called – Student Loans. The Student Loans are a POOL of money waiting for the Universities to tap into! They increase their tuition and the POOL of money increases to meet the higher costs. The only was to have both worlds is to CAP the subsidy. The problem with CAPPING the subsidy – whether it be INSURANCE or STUDENT LOANS – is that you are dealing with BEAUCRACY and SPECIAL INTERESTS which equals CORRUPTION so you will never see legislation that CAPS these gigantic POOLS of MONEY! Why? Because there is no accountability in Government – they don’t produce ANYTHING they only BROKER deals taking a cut for themselves and trying to make everyone happy. This doesn’t work, and it never has – it never will – IT IS ECONOMICALLY IMPOSSIBLE. The only solution possible is to change the rules for the BROKERS themselves (i.e. Brokers = Politicians). The rule that needs to be changed is the allowable term an elected official can hold office. TERM LIMITS would take the idea that Politics should be a career and turn it back to what the Founding Fathers had intended it to be – A CIVIC DUTY! Kind of like JURY DUTY. This way they would truly represent their constituents and make 100 yr decisions instead of 2,4, and 8 year decision like you have seen for many years now. Yes, vote. Vote for TERM LIMITS! Be truly represented by someone who is not looking for a career or power!