Liberal, Conservative Interest Groups Compete To Frame Public Insurance Option in Health Care Debate
Liberal and conservative interest groups "have begun a fierce ideological battle, with each side trying to shape the public's perception of a public insurance plan," the Christian Science Monitor reports. According to the Monitor, "While each side gears up for battle, some health reform advocates are concerned that inflexibility on this issue could damage the overall goal of reform."
The Health Policy Consensus Group, a coalition of conservative interest groups spearheaded by the Heritage Foundation, listed the creation of a public insurance option as the No. 1 "deal killer" for health care reform. The group argues that the government would use its "regulatory, pricing, and taxing authority" to make it nearly impossible for private insurers to compete, leaving U.S. residents without a private alternative.
On the liberal side, former Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean is leading a petition drive with groups like MoveOn.org and Democracy for America in support of a public insurance option that functions similar to Medicare. The groups contend that such an option would not put private insurers out of business but would make them more efficient and responsive because of the increased competition (Marks, Christian Science Monitor, 4/8). Health Care for America Now this week launched a national grassroots campaign to pressure lawmakers into supporting budget reconciliation as a means to passing health care reform that includes a public insurance option, putting pressure on centrist Democrats and Republicans to support such a plan (Bolton, The Hill, 4/8).
Robert Blendon, a political and health care analyst at Harvard University's School of Public Health, said the idea of a public insurance plan is "not completely framed in the public's mind yet and so the debate could shape where people finally come out on the idea," adding, "On one side, it's framed as a terrific thing that will lower costs and give you more options. On the other, it's painted as something where people could end up in a straitjacket of government-directed healthcare" (Christian Science Monitor, 4/8).
In related news, the Washington Post on Thursday examined how Congress "will confront an arcane arena of long-term legislating," particularly in the area of health care reform, when lawmakers return from the two-week recess (Kane/Murray, Washington Post, 4/9).
Several newspapers recently published opinion pieces related to the prospects of health care reform. Summaries appear below.
- James Roosevelt, Boston Globe: "The allure of a government-run health plan is distracting and unproven, and brings a high risk of unintended consequences, such as reducing competition and consumer choice," Roosevelt, president and CEO of Tufts Health Plan and co-chair of the policy committee at America's Health Insurance Plans, writes in a Globe opinion piece. He continues, "As a nation, we simply cannot afford to wait for the kind of accessible, portable, universal health care coverage" that is currently available in Massachusetts or in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Roosevelt writes that "there is much that we do here in Massachusetts that the president wants the rest of the nation to adopt," adding that while the state's health care system is not perfect, "theoretical perfection should not hold us hostage as we embark upon an idea whose time has finally come." Roosevelt concludes, "We cannot afford to be distracted. Today's confluence of will, momentum and the coming together of stakeholders is rare and must not be squandered" (Roosevelt, Boston Globe, 4/9).
- Ramesh Ponnuru, New York Times: "America's dysfunctional health care financing system needs to be reformed," Ponnuru, senior editor at National Review, writes in a Times opinion piece. He writes that "the goal should not be universal coverage"; rather, "[r]eform should simply aim to make health insurance more affordable and portable." According to Ponnuru, "An alternative approach would be to make it easier for people to buy insurance that isn't tied to their employment" by replacing the tax break for employer-provided insurance "with a tax credit that applies to insurance purchased either inside or outside the workplace." In addition, Ponnuru writes that "state mandates that require insurers to cover certain conditions, which make it expensive to offer individual policies, could be removed." Ponnuru says that free-market health insurance -- "[f]or most people, ... especially those in the middle class" -- would mean "paying less for health insurance." He concludes, "Some people, of course, would still choose to go without it," but that "would be their call, as it should be in a free country" (Ponnuru, New York Times, 4/9).
- David Wessel, Wall Street Journal: President Obama "almost surely will be unable to deliver on ambitious plans for federal spending while reducing the long-run budget deficit to a prudent level and keeping his pledge not to raise taxes on families with incomes under $250,000 a year," Journal columnist Wessel writes. While "[s]lowing the growth of government health spending is in fact necessary to balance the books," it is not the "fiscal nirvana" Obama has painted it as, and to suggest otherwise "offers Americans false comfort," Wessel says. Slowing health care spending "is undeniably crucial," but the problem "is that no one is really sure" how to slow it "and, even if a way is found, that alone will not solve the fundamental fiscal problem," he writes. Wessel concludes, "For 15 years, the American people have been told they could have it all. ... They deserve to be told that they can't have it all in the future" (Wessel, Wall Street Journal, 4/9).