The White House Backs Away From Public Option
Obama administration officials are signaling their willingness to compromise on a public plan option in any health reform proposal.
The Wall Street Journal: "Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Sunday that a new, government-run health-insurance program wasn't the 'essential element' of any overhaul plan
A day earlier, President Obama defended the public option at a town-hall meeting in Grand Junction, Colo., while leaving the door open to alternative approaches that expand coverage and reduce costs, but don't increase the federal deficit. The public option, 'whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of health-care reform,' Mr. Obama said. 'This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it'" (Williamson and Cole, 8/17).
The Washington Post: "Yet even as the Obama team hinted it could accept concessions that moderate Democrats are seeking, one of the leaders of that faction raised another hurdle for the administration. He warned that Senate Finance Committee negotiators may not meet the president's Sept. 15 deadline for producing a bill. 'We will be ready when we are ready,' Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.) said on 'Fox News Sunday.' 'We will not be bound by any deadline.'"
"Sebelius and other administration aides have said Obama is open to a nonprofit cooperative model as an alternative to the public option and the existing private plans. Finance Committee members have been studying utility co-ops as a possible model" (Connolly, 8/17).
Politico: "A White House aide said in an e-mailed statement Sunday afternoon that the president is not backing away from the public plan. 'Nothing has changed,' said Linda Douglass, communications director for the White House Office of Health Reform. 'The president has always said that what is essential is that health insurance reform must lower costs, ensure that there are affordable options for all Americans and it must increase choice and competition in the health insurance market. He believes the public option is the best way to achieve those goals'" (Budoff Brown, 8/16).
The New York Times: "In an interview on Sunday, Mr. Obama's senior adviser, David Axelrod, said the president remained convinced that a public plan was 'the best way to go.' But Mr. Axelrod said the nuances of how to develop a nonprofit competitor to private industry had never been 'carved in stone'" (Stolberg, 8/16).
The Associated Press/Boston Globe: "Former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean... said Monday he doubts there can be meaningful health care reform without a direct government role." He urged the Obama administration to stand by its earlier insistence "that such a public option was indispensable to genuine change." But a White House spokesman refused to say this approach was a make-or-break decision. "'What... the bottom line for this for the president is, what we have to have is choice and competition in the insurance market,' White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Sunday" (Elliot, 8/17).
Obama's position regarding the public option could end up triggering a fight with liberals, The Hill reports: "The left wing of the Democratic party already has been irritated by concessions its leaders have made on healthcare to centrists in the House and Senate. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) told CNN on Sunday it would be 'very difficult' for her and other liberals to support legislation that does not include a public option" (Swanson, 8/16).
But a shift away from that approach in favor of a privately run cooperative could gain favor on the right, The Associated Press reports in a second story. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., "says a potential administration shift... is something that opponents like him should consider." Shelby, an opponent of Obama's health care overhaul, "says he sees insurance co-ops as 'a step away from the government take over of the health care system.' Shelby appeared on 'Fox News Sunday' with Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who "has been pushing the co-op system as an alternative to a government-run public option to help cover the nation's nearly 50 million uninsured" (8/16).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.