Time for a little honesty from public option supporters

Posted on August 3, 2009

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As the Senate wraps up its business and the House heads home for vacation, the debate over health care reform continues. Central to the Democrats’ selling of their health care proposal is the notion that their “public option” won’t lead to government takeover of health care and won’t lead to the destruction of private insurance.

The only problem is that their own words contradict it. In a spliced together video, President Obama, Rep. Barney Frank, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky are all caught on tape telling what they hope will happen with health care (Hot Air and Michelle Malkin have it). In a SEIU health care forum, President Obama speaks of not being able to eliminate employer coverage immediately, and in a 2003 speech before AFL-CIO, he says he’s a proponent of a single-payer system. Rep. Frank says a public option is the best way to get a single-payer system, and Rep. Schakowsky practically crows about the fact that a government plan will destroy the private insurance industry (which we pointed out back in May).

Some would argue that none of those goals is a bad thing. My question is then, why not be open about it? Why not just come out and say that the plan is move to a single-payer system, to get rid of those evil private insurance companies, and to admit that the model is a European or Canadian one? The answer is that if that agenda were put to voice, the American public would react with even more vigorous rebuttal than it’s currently displaying. So at the heart of the matter, there is a certain dishonesty in motive and design in selling the public plan, as if a government plan would have no impact at all on employer coverage or on private insurance companies.

This same cognitive dissonance leads to the recent mixed signals on tax increases. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Obama economic advisor Larry Summers (who had just finished Googling the topic of the day) left the door open for tax increases on their respective news shows, leaving it to Press Secretary Robert Gibbs to assure the press that, yes, the President would keep his pledge to keep taxes low. The rub is that tax revenues are already declining, and to pay for such a massive increase in the size of government, the funds must come from somewhere, and you can only soak the rich for so much.

It all comes down to messaging. The proponents of the public option can’t be honest and say they hope government runs the private insurers out of town, and they can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that what they’re asking for isn’t cheap and must be paid for. Is health care reform necessary. You bet. But as I’ve stated before, trading a private bureaucracy for a government one isn’t reform – it’s cost-shuffling that doesn’t attack the fundamental cost of care. And, as the President, Rep. Frank, and Rep. Schakowsky state, at some point, perhaps not immediately, but some years removed, it will indeed lead to the single-payer state and the disappearance of private health insurance.

If that’s the goal, and such a noble one, then be honest about it.

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Posted in: News, Politics