The idea of offering people the option of enrolling in a public plan, similar to Medicare, has become the Rorschach test for health reform. Many conservatives see it as a foot-in-the-door that will lead to government-run, socialized medicine. Many liberals see it the same way, as the first step to achieving a single payer system, although fewer will admit to it.
If you distrust and dislike insurance companies, you like the public plan. If you distrust and dislike government, you despise it.
Then there are the deal-makers, the people in Congress who have to find a way to bridge these differences so that they can get a majority in the House and a 60 vote super-majority in the Senate. For them, the policy is less important than the votes they need to pass a bill. They are the ones who dream up things like "triggers", so the public plan would only go into effect if private insurers don't cover enough people and keep costs under control, or state opt-out or opt-ins, so each state could decide whether or not to participate. The deal-makers also have to decide if they will get more votes by having a "robust" public option (meaning that it would pay doctors or hospitals based on the Medicare rates), as the liberals insist, or whether it would use negotiated rates, as many of the "centrists" prefer.
The Hill newspaper is reporting that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will be unveiling an agreement tomorrow to have a public plan option that would use negotiated rates instead of Medicare. Last week Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that the Senate bill will have a public plan with a state opt-out.
But one way or another, the public plan has come back from the dead, as captured in this Halloween illustration brought to us by The Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles.
The scary thing about the public plan though, may be what it doesn't do, as Fred Hiatt, writes in The Washington Post. He argues that the public plan allows the politicians to pretend they are controlling health care costs while for the most part ducking the issue. Robert Samuelson, also writing for The Post, makes a similar argument, that the debate of the public plan allows Congress to "fake it" when it comes to controlling costs.
I see the public plan in the similar fashion as they do. Although the public plan has become the defining issue for many, I think there is a lot less to it than meets the eye. Depending on how it is structured, it could do some good in introducing some needed competition to the insurance industry, but I hardly believe that its inclusion or not is going to make or break health care reform. Especially since the deal-makers likely will water it down so much it won't have that much negotiating clout in the market.
Today's question: How important do you believe the public option is to health care reform?