Reporters pressed health care policy experts to address that question at a health reform panel in light of White House senior advisor David Axelrod’s assertions that President Barack Obama’s joint session next week will lay out a health care overhaul that could forgo the contentious government-run insurance option.
For Gail Wilensky, a senior fellow at Project Hope, the public option is “clearly” not dead. “It is the most contentious issue and unfortunately the administration has dug itself [into a difficult situation] by having the public plan become a prized position that is hard to negotiate around,” Wilensky told health care journalists this week at a National Press Club event by the Alliance for Health Care Reform.
Wilensky noted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and other members of Congress have said they will not support health care legislation that does not include a public plan.
“I’m worried with a public plan that when the government needs money [for the health program] it will go after benefits, populations served or whack reimbursements to physicians, which would be antithetical to the delivery improvements we’ve been talking about that are needed,” she said.
Heritage data from the Lewin Group also has shown that a government-run health care plan would create major changes in the current health care system, with more than 88 million Americans at risk of having their employer-sponsored health coverage disappear.
“The congressional left has made it clear that the public option is the key ingredient to what they consider ‘real health reform,”’ said Robert Moffit, director of Heritage’s Center for Health Policy Studies.
“They properly see the public option as means of eroding private health insurance, destroying the private health insurance markets and creating a single-payer system with a government monopoly. Underlying this entire debate has been a profound and irreconcilable conflict over the role of government in health care.”
“This is a fight over control,” Moffit added. “Control by government officials or by individuals and families. Don’t expect the left to surrender.”
Additionally, a public plan modeled after Medicare could still leave 16.5 million uninsured Americans without coverage, according to Lewin’s analysis of the House health care bill H.R. 3200.
Rather than focus on the public plan as being the “holy grail,” panelists at the Alliance for Health Reform event said Congress should focus on the components in health reform that have bipartisan support. “We all agree that we want our health care system to move toward universal coverage,” said panelist Ken Thorpe, with Emory University who used to work for the Clinton administration during the health care reform push in the early 90s.
Moffit noted that there also is wide bipartisan support for programs to provide direct assistance to low-income workers to help them buy private health insurance, which could be in the form of premium support for private insurance, vouchers or refundable tax credits.
The second area of agreement is promoting a larger role for the states in reforming health insurance markets. “States should have a greater role in that and securing access to affordable care for the poorest and sickest of our fellow citizens,” Moffit said.
What would Jesus do? Well, Ed Schultz thinks he knows – that is on health care reform at least.
Schultz, on his Sept. 2 MSNBC program, “The ED Show” told viewers he believed Jesus would vote for a government public option. That, he said, was to the dismay of some on religious right, or what he used the pejorative “Bible thumpers” to describe.
“Now, I have been referring to the health care reform deal as the real moral issue of our time,” Schultz said. “I believe Jesus would vote yes for a public option, but some Bible thumpers don’t see me eye to eye on this one.”
Schultz later elaborated on his statement, likening “fixing health care” to a moral obligation.
“Fixing health care in this country is a moral obligation,” Schultz said. “There isn’t any way around it, at least that’s how I see it and I think the public option to make health care affordable and accessible is a key, fulfilling moral obligation in this country. But some religious leaders don’t agree with me on that.”
Schultz lamented that some religious leaders had been campaigning against the Democratic-controlled Congress and White House’s idea for so-called health care reform. He cited a letter from church leaders in Kansas that were concerned with the government’s involvement in medicine.
“Take for example Catholic leaders in Kansas who teamed up to put out this letter about health care reform with this statement: ‘The teaching of the universal church has never been to suggest a government socialization of medical services. Rather the church has asserted the rights of every individual to have access to those things most necessary for sustaining and caring for human life while at the same time insisting on the personal responsibility of each individual to care properly for his or her own health,'” Schultz read.
He then cited the president, saying it was a “moral obligation” and asked his guest, Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, what his position was. Perkins said it was indeed a moral obligation, but not a government obligation.
“Well at first, let me say I do believe we have some problems in our health care system in America today,” Perkins said. “And I would agree with you that we do have a moral obligation to care for our neighbors. This is where we disagree. The issue is the selective lifting of scriptures of the teachings of Jesus, like from Matthew Chapter 25 that Al Gore used over the weekend that are actually teachings to the church and to fellow Christian followers of Jesus to care for others. And I’m thankful that that has historically been the view because it was churches and religious people who established the hospitals in this country. And we do have an obligation to care for the poor. But it’s not the government’s obligation.”
Schultz said the people were the government, so the obligation of the government was inclusive, according to Perkins’ standard. However, Perkins pointed out for the MSNBC host that the politically left-of-center seem to be willing cite scripture when expedient, but tend to get worked up when those on the right do the same thing, which he referred to as a double standard and even questioned if those on the left understood what they were citing.
“There’s this double standard,” Perkins said. “When the conservative uses scripture, the media goes into convulsions saying they’re trying to create a theocracy. When the liberals use scripture, they just report it I guess because they know they don’t mean it.”
On Monday’s World News, ABC’s Charles Gibson channeled the worry of liberal activists over the Obama administration’s seeming retreat on government-run health insurance, the so-called “public option.” Gibson fretted about Obama to White House correspondent Jake Tapper: “Will he go to the mat for a public option?” Gibson exposed how one-sided his universe of experts is: “We talked to several health care experts today, and they all said if you take out the public option in terms of insurance, there’s going to be no restraints on the cost of insurance.”
Conservative health care experts see empowering individuals, not government or insurance company bureaucrats, as the key to creating a more sensible health care marketplace.
MRC’s Brad Wilmouth caught Gibson’s exchange with Tapper, which followed Tapper’s piece on how the White House backpedaling was upsetting liberals: