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We Must Not Let Go of the Public Option

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by Ben Cohen

The battle for comprehensive healthcare does not exist between Left and Right. The Republicans have shown themselves unwilling to negotiate in good faith, and have thus removed themselves from the debate on healthcare reform in America. They do not have the votes or the leverage to affect the outcome, and they must now consign themselves to the sideline while the Democratic Party fights with itself.

The battle exists between the Left and Center, between those who believe a public plan is necessary to reform healthcare, and those who would appease the rabid Right and leave healthcare in the hands of private profit centers. The Centrist's apathy towards a public plan has done immeasurable damage to the debate. There are few in the center who hate the idea of a socialized insurance scheme, but don't think it necessary to bring down costs and provide more universal coverage. Writes Conor Clark on the Daily Dish:

I have decently warm feelings about a public option, but I don't think it's a good site for an all-consuming pitched battle over the fate of American health-care reform. So it's nice to see that some members of the Obama administration think this....

If we get over the public option, perhaps we can get back to the rest of health-care reform.

Clark provides reasoning for his position, namely that the 'signal' argument (whether Obama is truly a progressive or not) "hinges only on the intensity of support for the abstract proposition
that the government should get more involved in the insurance industry." According to Conor, this isn't necessary for real reform, whereas increased competition and regulation are.

But Conor is missing the point. The point is not just to bring down costs, but to create a healthcare system that values people's health, not profit. A public insurance scheme signals to Americans that their government gives a damn about them, that it will not leave them to the real Death Panels that decided whether people live or die according to their ability to pay.

A public insurance scheme won't be perfect. It will certainly force private companies to lower costs, and it will provide relief to millions of people who have not had access to affordable care. But above all, it will strike a blow to the insidious notion that free market capitalism should decide whether we live or die. And for that, everyone should be lining up behind the public plan.