The Big Sellout

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Ben Cohen
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by Ben Cohen

Surprise, surprise. More confusing noise from the White House on healthcare reform. Now retracting Katherine Sebilius's statement that the public option was 'not essential' to reform, the government is re-affirming a carefully worded commitment to a public insurance option. Said press secretary Robert Gibbs:

What the president has said, in order to inject choice and competition,
which will drive down costs and improve quality, that people ought to
be able to have some competitor in that market. There ought to be a
choice that they have. The president has thus far sided with the notion
that that can best be done through a public option.

This basically washes Obama's hands of responsibility - he likes the idea of a public option, but won't use his considerable political capitol to ram it through as he does not regard it as the 'crucial element' to reform. Regardless, the bar has now been set so low, the public option might not mean anything anymore. Matt Taibbi, who is about to publish an indepth report on the healthcare debate, had the following to say:

The public option was not a cure-all. In fact, the Democrats had in
reality already managed to kill the public option by watering it down
to the point of near-meaninglessness. But the notion that our president
not only does not have any use anymore for a public option, but in fact
“will be satisfied” if there is merely “choice and competition” in the
market is, well, disgusting.

The fact is, reform of the healthcare system without a substantial public option is not reform. Government studies have shown that co-ops won't lower costs because they won't be big enough to purchase at a lower price, and will only be able to offer premiums at similar rates to private corporations. The government can certainly regulate the insurance industry to lower costs and prevent them from denying coverage to people, but the effects will be minimal and it would leave in place a system that puts profit at the center of healthcare in America.