Public option should not kill deal


POSTED: Friday, September 11, 2009

Fearful of crafting his own health care reform legislation and having Congress give the same rebuff that it handed the Clinton administration's package, President Barack Obama asked Congress to write the bill. As legislators seemed sharply and irrevocably divided, Obama told senators and representatives in a joint session what he wants in “;my plan.”; His speech should adequately provide the nudge needed for what most people agree is a needed reform.

Most Republicans will continue their opposition, but Obama's strong rhetoric is likely to bring liberals and moderates within the Democratic Party together, and that ought to be enough to gain enactment. As the president noted, 80 percent of the many-faceted proposal is agreeable to nearly all members of Congress.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) expressed satisfaction that Obama continues to favor a government-operated health plan to compete with private insurance companies to keep costs down.

“;We're going to have affordable choices for everybody, including a public option for those who have no other choice,”; Abercrombie said in a news release.

However, Obama said he is flexible on that most contentious issue and invited alternative ideas to the public plan, such as nonprofit cooperatives favored by fiscally conservative Democrats. Such cooperatives would receive federal backing to begin operation.

Some liberal Democrats have vowed to vote against any bill that lacks the public option favored by Abercrombie. While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues to insist on a public plan, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., says it could be dropped from the bill.

Proponents of health care reform should not jeopardize reform's enactment by voting against any version that lacks the government-run health plan. If the substitute, if any, fails to bring premium prices under control through competition, the public option could and should be added at the first indication.

The need for universal health care has increased during the recession, as people have lost health insurance along with their jobs. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of uninsured rose from 45.7 million in 2007 to 46.3 million last year. Obama said yesterday the number has risen by 6 million as the recession intensified during the last 12 months.

Only 7.8 percent of Hawaii residents were uninsured last year—second lowest to Massachusetts's 5.5 percent—but those percentages are likely to have increased in the past year for the same reason cited by Obama.

Under the health care bills before Congress, all Americans would be required to have health insurance, just as most states require motorists to have car insurance, Obama noted.