The Case For a Public Option -- On a Fast Track
This item by J.P. Green was first published on October 19, 2009.
The moral case for the public option in health care reform has been well-made by numerous Democratic leaders, activists and writers, and some have also made a persuasive case that it's good political strategy. Robert Parry's Consortium News post, via Alternet, takes the argument a step further; that the public option is not only politically-wise; it should be implemented on a faster track -- or the Democrats could be risking "electoral disaster." As Parry explains:
Indeed, if the Democrats abandon the public option for the sake of passing a bill like the one that came out of the Senate Finance Committee, they may be courting electoral disaster once voters grasp that they will have to wait years for the law to be implemented and then that it could lead to higher costs for much the same unpopular private insurance plans.
...As the legislation stands now, many of the key features that hold some promise of helping consumers – such as the “exchange” where individuals and small business would shop for the best product – won’t even take effect until 2013. That means that Americans now facing the crisis of no health insurance won’t get much help for another four years, if then.
...By contrast to the four-year phase-in for these relatively modest reforms, the Medicare single-payer program for senior citizens was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 30, 1965, and was up and running less than a year later.
..The implementing delays mean that in both 2010 and 2012, Republicans will be free to make the truthful case that the Democrats – despite their promises – had accomplished little to help the American people on health care. Already, Republican senators are using the talking point that the four-year delay is part of a budgetary trick to make the bill appear cheaper over 10 years than it would be if its key features took effect quickly.
Parry believes the implementation delays of both the insurance exchanges and public option 'trigger' could work against each other to an even more deleterious effect:
...But the insurance exchanges won’t open until 2013, so it may take years before any trigger would be pulled. At minimum, the industry would have earned a lengthy reprieve.
And by the time, the exchanges have a chance to be tested, Congress and the White House could be in Republican hands. If that’s the case, the Republicans might well undo even the triggered public option. Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans would surely not worry about ramming their preferred policy through the Congress.
Conversely, Parry sees a huge upside to a bolder implementation strategy:
On the other hand, if Congress enacts a public option now, it presumably could be implemented at least as fast as Medicare, especially if it were piggybacked onto the existing Medicare bureaucracy. That would enable Democrats to show they had accomplished something beneficial for the public before voters go to the polls in November 2010.
By 2012, if the CBO predictions of substantial savings prove true, Obama could campaign for reelection on the basis that he had improved the welfare of the American people -- and the budget outlooks for government and business.
It would be bitterly ironic if Democrats enacted a strong health care reform bill, with a solid public option, but then suffered political damage because it was implemented too late to do us some good. Parry makes a compelling case that putting implementation of both a public option and health exchanges on a faster track is wise strategy.