Everybody seems to think President Obama is backing away from the public insurance option. The reason is a pair of statements over the weekend--one by Obama himself and one by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Obama's statement came during a town hall in Colorado on Saturday. After defending the public plan proposal on its merits, he suggested it wasn't quite as important to reform as a lot people think:
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. This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it. And by the way, it's both the right and the left that have become so fixated on this that they forget everything else.
A day later, Sebelius seemed to echo those sentiments during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union":
This piece of the puzzle has had enormous focus and the president continues to believe that it's good to have consumer choice, let people choose an option in the new marketplace. And it's good to have competition for the private insurers who will inherit a lot of new customers and without competition, costs could skyrocket.
In a monopoly system, it's not a great way to hold down costs. So he continues to be very supportive of some options for consumers. What we don't know is exactly what the Senate Finance Committee is likely to come up. They've been more focused on a co-op, not-for- profit co- op as a competitor as opposed to a straight government-run program.
And I think what's important is choice and competition. And I'm convinced at the end of the day, the plan will have both of those. But that is not the essential element.
It's pretty clear from those statements that, while the administration would prefer a public option, it's not going to demand it. But does that really represent a change? Obama has always talked up the public plan as a good idea. Sometimes he's made it seem like a very good idea. (Which, by the way, it is.) But he has not made it out to be a make-or-break part of legislation, at least that I can recall.
In fact, as best as I can tell, Obama has drawn only one line in the sand: He has said he won't sign a bill that inflates the deficit. I wish that weren't the case. At the very least, if he's going to make such promises, I'd like to see a similar one on the coverage end. But that seems to be the reality.
Of course, I could be wrong about this. My secret Washington decoder ring isn't as finely tuned as the ones more veteran politicos have.