Public Plan Gets Presidential Push

President Barack Obama yesterday detailed his support for "government-run insurance program that would compete with private insurers,"  CQ Politics reports.

Obama made his support through a letter to top Senate Democrats and committee chairmen Sens. Max Baucus, of Montana, and Edward Kennedy, of Massachusetts. "Although Obama’s support for what Democrats call a 'public plan option' is known, the letter laid out his positions on some proposals in substantially more detail than he had previously provided."

"'I strongly believe that Americans should have the choice of a public health insurance option operating alongside private plans,' Obama wrote. 'This will give them a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep insurance companies honest.'" Health Committee Democrats in the meantime considered "four or five" options for a public plan Wednesday as they met, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., told CQ Politics.

CQ Politics notes that both Kennedy and Baucus support some sort of public plan, but "it has turned into a hot button for Republicans, many of whom have said they will not support any bill that puts a new government-run insurance plan in competition with private insurance. Baucus has sought a compromise with Republicans on the issue, so far without success" (Armstrong and Wayne, 6/3).

The New York Times reports: "The president’s letter reaffirmed his 'determination to enact a government-run health plan that would raise taxes and ration care,' said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader" (Pear, 6/3).

The Associated Press quotes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.: "'A government-run plan would set artificially low prices that private insurers would have no way of competing with,'" McConnell said Wednesday on the Senate floor (Werner, 6/4).

Even among Democrats, the details of a public plan are very much under discussion, The Wall Street Journal reports: "People close to the Senate deliberations say that Mr. Baucus's Finance Committee is leaning toward creating a public plan that only takes effect under certain conditions. For instance, the plan could kick in if insurance premiums rose too much beyond a set level, or if an insurer gained a certain percentage of the market" (Adamy, 6/4).

And the Blue Dog Democrats — a fiscally conservative subset of the party — think a trigger mechanism for a public plan is the only way they can stomach such a mandate, according to Reuters: "They want a public plan to be 'triggered' only in the absence of adequate competition and cost containment by the private sector. 'The truth of the matter is that no one knows what the public option will or will not be able to achieve,' Representative Mike Ross, who heads the Blue Dog healthcare task force, said in a statement. 'Frankly, it's an experiment'" (Smith, 6/3).

With Obama's letter, Democrats may have gotten at least some of what they've been waiting for, The Hill reports: "The Obama administration has steadfastly deferred to lawmakers on the details up until now, a strategy appreciated by the congressional Democrats in the middle of the healthcare reform effort. Lately, however, some lawmakers have been clamoring for the president to get more directly involved and to take firm positions on a handful of contentious issues — especially those dividing Democrats" (Young, 6/3).

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