The President and the Public Option

Washington Post

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says President Obama’s support for a government-run — or public — insurance option has not changed. Here is a sampling of what the president has said about the public option.

March 26 And to say we are going to allow anybody to get health insurance — and if you’ve got a preexisting condition you’re not going to be excluded, but you’re going to be able to obtain health insurance; and if you can’t obtain it through a private plan, there is going to be a public plan that is available in some way to give you insurance, or insurers are obligated to provide you with insurance in some way — now, that’s a principle.

June 15 Let me also address an illegitimate concern that’s being put forward by those who are claiming that a public option is somehow a Trojan horse for a single-payer system.

Now, I’ll be honest. There are countries where a single-payer system works pretty well. But I believe — and I’ve even taken some flak from members of my own party for this belief — that it’s important for our reform efforts to build on our traditions here in the United States.

So when you hear the naysayers claim that I’m trying to bring about government-run health care, know this: They’re not telling the truth.

June 24 A lot of the objection to the public option idea is not practical, it’s ideological. People don’t like the idea of government being involved. But keep in mind that the two areas where government is involved . . . in health care — Medicare and the VA — actually, there’s pretty high satisfaction among the people who participate.

July 7 I am pleased by the progress we’re making on health-care reform and still believe, as I’ve said before, that one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices and ensure quality is a public option that will force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest.

July 18 Any plan I sign must include an insurance exchange — a one-stop-shopping marketplace where you can compare the benefits, costs and track records of a variety of plans, including a public option to increase competition and keep insurance companies honest, and choose what’s best for your family. And that’s why we’ll put an end to the worst practices of the insurance industry. No more yearly caps or lifetime caps. No more denying people care because of preexisting conditions. And no more dropping people from a plan when they get too sick. No longer will you be without health insurance, even if you lose your job or change your job.

Aug. 15 Now, the insurance companies have come back and said, “Well, that’s not fair, because nobody can compete against the government.” They have a legitimate point if, if what’s being done is the government is . . . subsidizing that government plan — essentially taking taxpayer money and saying, “Here, we’ll just keep on spending money regardless of whether you run a good operation or not,” then it’s hard for insurance companies to compete against that. And by the way, it would be wildly expensive for taxpayers.

So I’ve already said a public option can only work if they have to collect premiums just like a private insurer and compete on a level playing field.