Prospects Improving For Health Care Reform, Including Public Option

From reports over the last few days it is appearing increasingly likely that Congress will pass health care reform by having the House pass the Senate bill and making changes by budget reconciliation which only require a simple majority, a strategy frequently used to pass legislation during the Bush years.

Going from a requirement of a sixty vote super-majority to using reconciliation which only requires a simple majority vote also means that the Democrats no longer need to be concerned about compromising to obtain the votes of conservatives such as Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson. This will allow them to pass measures supported by the majority such as a public option.

The public option is widely supported by the public, and is essential to reduce opposition to the bill created by the individual mandate. The public option would give consumers in the individual market the choice of voluntarily purchasing a government-run insurance plan modeled on the popular and highly successful Medicare program. Consumers would also have a choice of private insurance plans offered on the proposed insurance exchanges. The public option would be financed from premiums paid by those who chose the public option over private plans. Initial start up money for the public option coming from tax funds would have to be paid back.

When health care reform stalled after the lose of Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat many on the left were urging for more immediate passage of the Senate plan. I was opposed to such immediate passage considering the political risk that this could lead to Republican gains in November, jeopardizing long term government action to reform health care delivery. Instead it appears the Democrats are following the path I favored: taking action to explain the health care plan to the voters, improve upon the Senate plan, and make clear the obstructionist policies of the Republican Party prior to passage. Both of these goals might be accomplished with the upcoming health care summit to be held prior to a final vote.

President Obama also used his weekly address to push for health care reform and it is a safe bet we will be hearing much more from him on the topic over the next several weeks. Polling over the past year has showed increases in public support for health care when discussed by Obama while support tends to decline when Republican misinformation dominates the news.  Recent double digit increases in health insurance premiums on the individual market have also highlighted how essential it is to pass health care reform this year.

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