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Dean: Public Option Essential to Real Health Care Reform

The Associated Press reports:

Former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, a leading figure in the liberal wing of his party, said Monday he doubts there can be meaningful health care reform without a direct government role.

Dean urged the Obama administration to stand by statements made early on in the debate in which it steadfastly insisted that such a public option was indispensable to genuine change, saying that Medicare and the Veterans Administration are "two very good programs that have been around for a long time." Dean appeared on morning news shows Monday amid increasing indications the Obama White House is retreating from the public option in the face of vocal opposition from Republicans and some vocal participants at a town-hall-style meetings around the country.

The former Vermont governor was asked on NBC's "Today" show about President Barack Obama's statement over the weekend that the public option for insurance coverage was "just a sliver" of the overall proposal. Obama's health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, advanced that line, telling CNN Sunday that a direct government role in a system intended to provide virtually universal coverage was "not the essential element." Dean, a physician, argued that a public option is fair and said there must be such a choice in any genuine shake up of the existing system.

"You can't really do health reform without it," he said. Dean maintained that the health insurance industry has "put enormous pressure on patients and doctors" in recent years.

He called a direct government role "the entirety of health care reform. It isn't the entirety of insurance reform ... We shouldn't spend $60 billion a year subsidizing the insurance industry." Dean also said he doesn't foresee any Republican support for a public option. "I don't think the Republicans are interested and in order to have a bipartisan bill, you've got to have both sides interested," he said.

The shift in the administration's stance on a government-run insurance program leaves open a chance for compromise with Republicans that probably would enrage Obama's liberal supporters but could deliver a much-needed victory on a top domestic priority.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., who is co-chairman of the Middle Class Caucus, said that "leaving private insurance companies the job of controlling the costs of health care is like making a pyromaniac the fire chief." But Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., told reporters in Philadelphia on Monday that the success of health care overhaul doesn't hinge on any one element and co-ops might provide the same results under a different name.

"I believe that the president has to make the evaluation as a matter of leadership as to what the administration wants to do. There is an alternative to the so-called public option by having co-ops. I think these matters are subject to exploration," Specter said.

Officials from both political parties are looking for concessions while Congress is on an August recess. Facing tough audiences, lawmakers and the White House are looking for a way to cover the nation's almost 50 million uninsured while maintaining political standing.

Sebelius said the White House would be open to co-ops instead of a public option -- a sign that Democrats want a compromise so they can declare a victory.

Under a proposal by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., consumer-owned nonprofit cooperatives would sell insurance in competition with private industry, not unlike the way electric and agriculture co-ops operate, especially in rural states such as his own.

With $3 billion to $4 billion in initial support from the government, the co-ops would operate under a national structure with state affiliates, but independent of the government. They would be required to maintain the type of financial reserves that private companies are required to keep in case of unexpectedly high claims.

"I think there will be a competitor to private insurers," Sebelius said. "That's really the essential part, is you don't turn over the whole new marketplace to private insurance companies and trust them to do the right thing." Obama's spokesman refused to say a public option was a make-or-break choice.

"What I am saying is 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.

A day before, Obama appeared to hedge his bets.

"All I'm saying is, though, that the public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of health care reform," Obama said at a town hall meeting in Grand Junction, Colo. "This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it." Lawmakers have discussed the co-op model for months, although the Democratic leadership and the White House have said they prefer a government-run option.

Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, called the argument for a government-run public plan little more than a "wasted effort." He added there are enough votes in the Senate for a cooperative plan.

By Web Politics Editor  |  August 17, 2009; 12:43 PM ET
Categories:  Health Care  
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Comments

Howard Dean is an irrevelent, tired old half-baked politician who never really did anything right in his whole career. Why would anyone listen to anything he had to say.
He states Republicans and "other" protesters don't seem to like the public option plan. You, sir, are dead wrong on that one. Very few folks like the plan that the Obama administration came up with. I believe that the majority of citizens want to see health care reform, just not the radical and hugely unpopular plan the Dems want to foist on the people.
The failed Obama presidency, so far, will be over in 2012 and we can breath a sigh of relief that our country will be back in the hands of people who love her. God bless America!

Posted by: inowat | August 18, 2009 8:03 PM | Report abuse

The time is ripe for the President and his team to speak with one voice-- he campaigned to work for universal health insurance. But given where we are in the process, single payor is out.. public option remains the second choice. So again, time for the Democrats to do what it takes LBJ style and get this legislation passed.

Less than that, throws victory to the party that sits in the opposition. Cannot imagine that could have been the case if Senator McCain won last November. As is often said "lets get cracking on this!" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhcd0UXByro

Posted by: Victoria5 | August 18, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Re: no public option? If I were in the young, healthy, and feeling invincible demographic (unfortunately I'm not), I'd wonder if this entire health "reform" effort was just another way to enrich the health insurers, especially if health insurance coverage will be mandated.

If this is the road President Obama is headed down, it is just the kind of event that will disillusion young voters. While they probably won't be motivated enough to vote Republican, the resulting cynicism might be the kind of thing to keep them home or doing other things than waiting in line to vote in '10 and '12. Guess the pros know what they are doing.

Posted by: tebrom50 | August 18, 2009 3:28 AM | Report abuse

Re: no public option? If I were in the young, healthy, and feeling invincible demographic (unfortunately I'm not), I'd wonder if this entire health "reform" effort was just another way to enrich the health insurers, especially if health insurance coverage will be mandated.

If this is the road President Obama is headed down, it is just the kind of event that will disillusion young voters. While they probably won't be motivated enough to vote Republican, the resulting cynicism might be the kind of thing to keep them home or doing other things than waiting in line to vote in '10 and '12. Guess the pros know what they are doing.

Posted by: tebrom50 | August 18, 2009 3:28 AM | Report abuse

Conrad continues to say their not enough Democratic votes for the public option.

Why doesn't some news organization ask him to share with nation who exactly in the Democrat controlled Senate will vote against the public plan and kill the Presidents Health Reform proposal?

Maybe he is the only holdout. It would be nice to know.

Man up and take a stand.

Would he vote for the public option?

Posted by: cautious | August 18, 2009 3:06 AM | Report abuse

THIS IS IT!

More than two thirds of the American people want a single payer health care system. And if they cant have a single payer system 76% of all Americans want a strong government-run public option on day one (85% of democrats, 71% of independents, and 60% of republicans). Basically everyone.

AND NO INSURANCE MANDATES WITHOUT A STRONG GOVERNMENT-RUN PUBLIC OPTION ON DAY ONE! An insurance mandate without a strong government-run public option choice on day one, would be a DISASTER! And it would be worse than the GREED DRIVEN PRIVATE FOR PROFIT HEALTH INSURANCE HORROR! SHOW you have now. YOU MUST MAKE CERTAIN!! THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN AMERICA.

The healthcare reform bills released by the first two committees of the House Of Representatives are excellent bills as I understand them. They are bills with a strong, robust, government-run public option, and an intelligent, reasonable initial funding plan to cover almost all of the American people. They are carefully written, and thoughtfully constructed, informed, prudent and wise. These bills will save trillions of dollars, and millions of your lives. They are also now supported by the AMA.

These are the type of bills that all Americans can feel good about. And these are the type of bills that have the potential to dramatically improve the quality of healthcare for all Americans. Rich, middle class and poor a like. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and all other party affiliations. These bills have the potential to dramatically improve the quality of life of every American.

The house healthcare bills released by the first two committees should be viewed as the minimum GOLD STANDARD by which all other proposed healthcare legislation should be judged. All supporters of true high quality healthcare reform should now place all your support behind these healthcare reform bills released by the first two committees of the United States House Of Representatives, as the minimum Gold standard for healthcare reform in America.

You should all now support the first two committees bills with all your might, and all of your unrelenting tenacity. These first two House committees healthcare bills are VERY, VERY GOOD! bills for all of the American people. Fight tooth, and nail for every bit of these bills if you have too. Be aggressive, creative, and relentless for these bills.

From this time forward, go BIGGER and DEEPER with the American people every day until passage of healthcare reform with a robust, government-run public option.

FIGHT!! like your life and the lives of your loved ones depends on it. BECAUSE IT DOES!

SPREAD THE WORD

Senator Bernie Sanders on healthcare (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSM8t_cLZgk&feature=player_embedded)

God Bless You

Jack Smith — Working Class

Posted by: JackSmith1 | August 17, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Nice to see that the president is showing a willingness to compromise and listen to the center of an issue, unlike the base-idolizing GOP...

http://www.political-buzz.com/

Posted by: parkerfl1 | August 17, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse

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