Ditching the Public Option

6a00d8341c909d53ef01157023e340970b-pi It looks to me like the popular objections to a health care bill being expressed by voters this month are concentrated in two primary areas:  

  1. A concern about “government control of the health care system”—mostly around the public plan option.
  2. The trillion-dollar cost of a health care bill at a time deficits are swelling and worries about who will really end up paying for it.

As a result of the first concern, we are getting the first indications that some Democratic leaders are ready to ditch the robust Medicare-like public option and are beginning the process of talking the party out of demanding it be included in a health care bill.

This from Politico today:

After the toughest week yet for health reform, leading Democrats are warning that the party likely will have to accept major compromises to get a bill passed this year – perhaps even dropping a proposal to create a government-run plan that is almost an article of faith among some liberals…"Trying to hold the president's feet to the fire is fine, but first we have to win the big argument," former President Bill Clinton said Thursday at the Netroots Nation convention, a gathering of liberal activists and bloggers who will prove most difficult to convince. "I am pleading with you. It is OK with me if you want to keep everybody honest. . . .But try to keep this thing in the lane of getting something done. We need to pass a bill and move this thing forward."

It has been clear to me for months, and I have been saying so on this blog, that the public option has not had the votes even among Democrats to make the finals. With all the heat “a government takeover” of health care has attracted from those at the town hall meetings either the Democrats ditch it or get used to the idea they have no chance of passing health care reform.

Given all of the stridency we have heard from liberals in recent weeks making inclusion of a public plan a litmus test for the minimum health bill they will vote for, it will be interesting to see just how this rolls out.But getting rid of the public option doesn’t make health care reform easy.While there are lots of other issues to sort through, I will suggest that the public’s unease with health care goes beyond the public plan. Voters seem every bit as uncomfortable with the trillion-dollar cost of reform and just how it would be paid for. They just don’t seem to buy the argument that savings from the current system and a tax on someone else will save them from eventually having to pay for it—and I think they are justified in believing that.

With talk about abandoning the public option also comes a discussion about a smaller health care bill that would cost less and just make a down payment on reform—focusing on insurance rules and the insurance exchange.

That is a possibility. However, even that will not be easy.In order to craft an insurance system where pre-existing conditions limits and medial underwriting could be largely or entirely done away with, it would also have to be a fix that got lots of the healthy people to buy coverage. To do that, get a good mix of the sick and the healthy to maintain a viable insurance pool, the subsidies for those now uninsured and unable to afford the thousands of dollars health insurance costs would have to be robust.Those insurance subsidies are what costs so much and make up the better part of the trillion dollar price tag the currentDemocratic health care plans have.So, we can theoretically get rid of the robust Medicare-like public plan option with a stroke of the pen but not the trillion dollar price tag—and with it the voters’ concern about how much a bill costs and who will pay for it.

Robert Laszweski has been a fixture in Washington health policy
circles for the better part of three decades. He currently serves as
the president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates of Alexandria,
Virginia. Before forming HPSA in 1992, Robert served as the COO, Group
Markets, for the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. You can read more of
his thoughtful analysis of healthcare industry trends at The Health
Policy and Marketplace Blog
, where this post first appeared.

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