It’s no secret that the health care reform bills in both the House and the Senate are both almost certain to contain some version of the public option. We don’t know the details yet, but the intent to include a public option is there, and has been clearly expressed by Congressional leaders Pelosi and Reid.
I don’t think most American would be against a public option if it truly (1) left private options intact and did not compete unfairly with them (2) allowed for choices such as high deductible and/or catastrophic insurance in both the private and the public sectors (3) was actually deficit- and tax-neutral; and (4) covered all uncovered citizens who want coverage, and did not compel those who don’t want it to be covered against their will.
But that’s not the case with the current bills. And since it is virtually impossible to craft a public option that has those features, it’s a safe bet that it won’t be the case for the final bills either.
Polls about the public option are essentially useless in telling us what America actually wants. Most polls don’t even use the word “public option” (many of the polls use the phrase “government health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans,” for example, and some even describe it as “similar to Medicare”). None describe the provisions of the bills actually under discussion in the legislature, most of which would not just “compete” with private health insurance but bury it, as well as violating the other three criteria I mentioned above.
That’s not what the American people want, and I don’t think we need a poll to tell us that. Nevertheless, that’s what the American people might very well get.
But why would the Democratic Party want to pass such an unpopular bill? Because they’ve been wanting to for a very long time, because Obama promised health care reform during his campaign, because they favor increasing government intervention in general, and because now’s there a very good chance of success—perhaps the best they’ll ever have—since they hold powerful majorities in both legislative bodies and control the presidency as well. So carpe diem.
[NOTE: I haven't spent a lot of time in this post describing how it is that the bills under consideration are examples of sleight of hand, pretending to do one thing---preserve private insurance choices and keep costs down---while actually doing another. There have been countless articles in the press and the blogosphere explaining just that (here's one, for example), so I see no need to reinvent the wheel.
But if you take a look at the details of the Senate bill that supposedly is the leader right now, you'll see what I mean. Everything about the public option is designed to appear to retain the private insurance choice, while at the same time having the actual affect of making the private option non-competitive, and most likely ultimately phasing it out.]