A Medicare-like Public Plan For All: Still Crucial

August 17, 2009

Over the weekend, the Obama administration may have weakened its support for a “public option” as one part of the health care package emerging from Washington.

On Sunday, Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius told CNN that a public option is not “essential”, a day after President Obama, at a town hall meeting in Colorado, said that a public option is “just one sliver” of reform. Major media outlets wrote up what they saw as a shift in position: “Key Feature Of Obama Health Plan May Be Out”, blared the Washington Post; “‘Public Option’ in Health Plan May Be Dropped”, said the New York Times. But some commentators, like liberal bloggers Jonathan Cohn and Ezra Klein, voiced doubts that this represented a substantive change in administration policy.

Whether or not the Obama camp has changed positions, the real Washington action on health care right now isn’t at the White House — it’s further down Pennsylvania Avenue, at the Capitol. With House staffers now reconciling the three versions of its bill, the key battleground is the Senate. The Senate Finance Committee remains locked in negotiations on its version of the mainstream health care package, and now says it will pass its bill by September 15; merging that piece of legislation with the very different Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee bill will be a contentious process.

And no matter what way the winds of political calculation are currently blowing in Washington, the human rights position hasn’t changed. A Medicare-like public plan for all remains crucial for realizing the human right to health care in the the United States. Health care is a public good, not a commodity. Public financing and administration is the best vehicle for care that’s truly accessible and accountable. Setting up a new Medicare-like public plan in the current round of reform is a key aim for human right to health care advocates.

Senators Baucus, Dodd and Reid — the Finance chair, the HELP vice chair, and the Senate majority leader — need to support a public plan. Urge them to do that today!