The Associated Press

Former Gov. Dean Calls Public Option Indispensable

WASHINGTON — Former Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean said Monday he doubts there can be meaningful health care reform without a direct government role, putting him at odds with President Obama who says such a public option is only a sliver of the solution.

Dean, a leading figure among the party’s liberals, carefully tried to avoid criticizing the president openly, but he urged the administration to stand by statements made early on in the debate in which it steadfastly insisted that such a public option was indispensable to genuine change. Dean said Medicare and the Veterans Administration are “two very good programs that have been around for a long time.”

Dean appeared on morning news shows Monday amid increasing indications the Mr. Obama White House is retreating from the public option in the face of vocal opposition from Republicans and some vocal participants at a town-hall-style meetings around the country.

The former Vermont governor was asked on NBC’s “Today” show about Mr. Obama’s statement over the weekend that the public option for insurance coverage was “just a sliver” of the overall proposal. Mr. Obama’s health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, advanced that line, telling CNN Sunday that a direct government role in a system intended to provide virtually universal coverage was “not the essential element.”

Dean, a physician, argued that a public option is fair and said there must be such a choice in any genuine shake up of the existing system.

“You can’t really do health reform without it,” he said. Dean maintained that the health insurance industry has “put enormous pressure on patients and doctors” in recent years.

He called a direct government role “the entirety of health care reform. It isn’t the entirety of insurance reform … We shouldn’t spend $60 billion a year subsidizing the insurance industry.”

Dean also said he doesn’t foresee any Republican support for a public option. “I don’t think the Republicans are interested and in order to have a bipartisan bill, you’ve got to have both sides interested,” he said.

The shift in the administration’s stance on a government-run insurance program leaves open a chance for compromise with Republicans that probably would enrage Mr. Obama’s liberal supporters but could deliver a much-needed victory on a top domestic priority.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., who is co-chairman of the Middle Class Caucus, said that “leaving private insurance companies the job of controlling the costs of health care is like making a pyromaniac the fire chief.”

But Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., told reporters in Philadelphia on Monday that the success of health care overhaul doesn’t hinge on any one element and co-ops might provide the same results under a different name.

“I believe that the president has to make the evaluation as a matter of leadership as to what the administration wants to do. There is an alternative to the so-called public option by having co-ops. I think these matters are subject to exploration,” Specter said.

Officials from both political parties are looking for concessions while Congress is on an August recess. Facing tough audiences, lawmakers and the White House are looking for a way to cover the nation’s almost 50 million uninsured while maintaining political standing.

Sebelius said the White House would be open to co-ops instead of a public option — a sign that Democrats want a compromise so they can declare a victory.

Under a proposal by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., consumer-owned nonprofit cooperatives would sell insurance in competition with private industry, not unlike the way electric and agriculture co-ops operate, especially in rural states such as his own.

With $3 billion to $4 billion in initial support from the government, the co-ops would operate under a national structure with state affiliates, but independent of the government. They would be required to maintain the type of financial reserves that private companies are required to keep in case of unexpectedly high claims.

“I think there will be a competitor to private insurers,” Sebelius said. “That’s really the essential part, is you don’t turn over the whole new marketplace to private insurance companies and trust them to do the right thing.”

Mr. Obama’s spokesman refused to say a public option was a make-or-break choice.

“What I am saying is the bottom line for this for the president is, what we have to have is choice and competition in the insurance market,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Sunday.

A day before, Mr. Obama appeared to hedge his bets.

“All I’m saying is, though, that the public option, whether we have it or we don’t have it, is not the entirety of health care reform,” Mr. Obama said at a town hall meeting in Grand Junction, Colo. “This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it.”

Lawmakers have discussed the co-op model for months, although the Democratic leadership and the White House have said they prefer a government-run option.

Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, called the argument for a government-run public plan little more than a “wasted effort.” He added there are enough votes in the Senate for a cooperative plan.

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  • http://www.swzr.com Seth Robbins

    The fact that there is even any question at all about the Public Option being needed or not is quite pathetic in my eyes. This whole backing off thing is just demonstrating that we have yet another spineless set of Democrats in office.

    Howard Dean is absolutely right about there being no REFORM without the Public Option in any new healthcare legislation. For F$%K SAKE it’s an OPTION! Not a mandate or forceful hand from big brother, but a passive option where the individual or company makes the decision to sign on. And yet the fear in peoples hearts brought on by their own ignorance is somehow ruining my countries chances of economic recovery over an OPTION?!?!?!?

    Seriously folks, it’s time we all grew up a bit and displayed a little more courage. Or at least pay a little more attention to details instead of freaking out over hearsay and propaganda.

    YES! we desperately NEED a Public OPTION! Otherwise it’s just more pathetic patchwork by a relatively useless and lazy government.

  • Concerned Citizen

    We are all poor and drowing in healthcare bills. What more can I say? American people are simply in denial and we are all going to sink.

  • Paul Spirn, MD

    It should be stressed that the purpose of a health care system is to provide health care; it is not to provide for the health of insurance companies. Those companies contribute nothing to health care, not to its quality, not to its availability, and not to its efficiency. They are no more than a conduit for the premiums contributed by employers and subsecribers. And they are motivated first and formost to maintain their attractive profit margings, by ratcheting up premiums, denying claims, cancelling coverage whenever they can get away with it, and in many parts of the country, by cutting back on reimbursements to physicians and hospitals to lower levels than paid by Medicare. I am outraged at the seeming willingness of the President and Senate Democrats to abandon the option of public supported health coverage. It is our only chance to reverse the current course of our ruinously expensive, maldistributed, second rate health care. If the President stands tall to say that Americans’ health and the health of our ravaged economy are more important than the profits of insurance companies and drug manufacturers, despite the millions they contribute in political campaigns, then millions of Americans, who are not fooled by lies about a public health care option, will stand behind him.

  • Dianne Rocheleau

    I agree with Paul Spirn MD in his prior comment. Millions of us will stand with the President and our Representatives and Senators in Congress if they stand up for us and for the right thing, not the easy deal with the insurance and drug companies. What ever happened to living in a country, a place where people have a social contract to take care of each other? It seems that one day I went to sleep in country and the next day I woke up in a bank. We have done nothing but talk about bottom lines and accounting for over a decade and it has been all about corporate interests, not about accountability to each for all our health, mine and yours and our neighbors’. Even the economic talk has gone off topic, we are talking about corporate bottom lines and not about the livelihoods of real flesh and blood human beings, about communities and about ecosystems. I want my country back, the corporations can keep the bank model if they want, I don’t think it serves us well as a people to pretend we’re a bank and treat each other like merchandise or “investments”. We’re neighbors and we’d better get over thinking of ourselves as “investors” and remember what it means to be truly human and alive in this world. Many of us will proudly stand behind poltical leaders who are not afraid to do what is right and to offer us at least an option to take care care of each other while we take care of ourselves. Compare medical care in any developed country with a national health service with being droppped by your U.S. HMO or denied coverage by an insurance company once you actually get sick. Compare those other systems with the pay or perish option we have now, and those national systems start looking quite good. We can do better than this. Other countries get much better care for less money per person and we can and must do as well or better. We owe it to ourselves and each other.

  • Donald Steele

    If they drop the public option then leave the system thee way it is. It will cost too much to do a half measure. What a complete waste of time this has been

  • http://johnsonbonnie.com Bonnie Johnson

    We need at least a public option (though it is a lame approach to the problems we have). Co-ops can’t compete with private companies. We already have non-profits in insurance (Blue Cross). They haven’t helped. I support the government being responsible for the “risk” with private companies competing to administer claims. We must eliminate underwriting not just guarantee coverage (at what price?). This approach is an evolution of what we have. Large companies carry their own risk today with private companies administering claims. Let’s get employers out of the health care business and guarantee coverage for all.

  • Steven Trank

    For five years, I paid into my health care plan through my employer. I never used it, I wasn’t sick. I lost my employment through no fault of my own. I was offered to continue my health care plan, my option was to pay 4 times the amount. More than my employer and I were paying monthly combined. On Unemployment Insurance that was no option. Then I had to go to the doctor. It was cheaper out of pocket, than one payment to the insurance company. Thank God it was just a minor illness, not a life changing injury or illness. I’m just one. How many are there? We NEED something other than money grubbing Insurance companys.

  • Deanne Guardino

    We all need to unite in this. Democrats are being beaten up and are backing down because of the pundits and the rhetoric. We need to write many, many of our elected officials and to all our local newspapers. All of us. I have been ganged up on, on bulletin boards getting posts calling this Obama’s Waterloo and all of us Sheeple. This is ridiculous and I have held my own fighting this proganda but I can’t fight this battle alone. We must unite for healthcare. This is serious. Our country is failing because of the costs of healthcare and we are getting sicker and sicker.

    It’s not just our elected officials who need to show some backbone. We the people need to stand up and fight the fat cats and those who only want Obama to fail no matter what it costs America. There are those out there who will stop at nothing to make sure this bill does not pass and they are getting people to believe their lies. They are calling our President a liar and a Nazi and getting away with it!!! We can’t let them bully us ALL LIKE THIS. And make no mistake about this, we are ALLOWING them to bully US ALL.

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