In the Arena

Public Droption

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The news that the Obama Administration seems to be abandoning the so-called Public Option should come as no surprise to anyone who was following this issue. My assumption always was that the public option–which was never really defined (there were several versions)–was a bargaining chip to be cashed late in the game in return to for Republican and moderate Democratic support for health care legislation. The question is: If this was a quid what was the quo? Which votes on the Senate Finance Committee did Obama secure by dropping the option? Is there a majority of the Committee prepared to vote for…well, we’re not sure what they may or may not be prepared to vote for, since the actual contents of the bill remain mirage-y.

Meanwhile, I never had much interest in a public option. I think the perils of government-delivered (as opposed to funded) services are obvious and immense. Sarah Lyall had an excellent piece in the Times today about her dealings with the British National Health System, which has some very real strengths, but also some terrifying weaknesses. On the other hand, I am very much in favor of a single-payer system in which the government gives everyone a tax credit, scaled according to income, that enables people to select from an array of government approved and regulated health insurance choices–offered by a not-for-profit health exchange or an organization like the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan. Unfortunately, that’s too radical a leap right now. But I do hope that the plan that does emerge opens the door to such a system, making it available to individuals and small businesses as soon as possible.

I spent the weekend traveling through the west with the President, watching him perform at health care forums in Montana and Colorado. He did quite well, I thought. I’ll have more to say about it–and the Republican health scare strategy–in my print column this week.