Public Option May Get Cut from Health Care Bill

Published November 5, 2009

As congressional Democrats work on the final version of sweeping health care legislation, it remains unclear which provisions will survive the complex bill-making process.

Top aides to President Barack Obama say he may not require creation of a government-run health care system, known as the public option, as part of the final legislation.

Speaking on ABC News’ This Week on October 18, White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod declined to answer whether the president would demand a public option as a condition of signing the bill.

“The president has very consistently and clearly articulated his support for a public option,” Axelrod said. “But that doesn’t mean that we halt the process. There are people in the Senate—Republicans and Democrats—who have objections to that. We have to work through these issues, and we’re going to do that.”

Still on Table

With the Senate Finance Committee lending its support to Sen. Max Baucus’s (D-MT) bill, five different versions of health care legislation have passed out of House and Senate committees. Those bills are in conflict on many key points, particularly the creation of an expanded government-run system, and could prove difficult to reconcile.

According to another White House senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett, Obama will not insist upon the public option in deciding whether to sign the final bill.

“He’s not demanding that it’s in there. He thinks it’s the best possible choice,” Jarrett said on the October 18 edition of NBC’s Meet the Press.

Seen as Wrong Direction

Although the final legislation will have to balance the opinions of liberals and moderates, Axelrod expressed confidence it will be acceptable to the White House.

“There will be compromise. There will be legislation, and it will achieve our goals: helping people who have insurance get more security, more accountability for the insurance industry, helping people who don’t have insurance get insurance they can afford, and lowering the overall cost of the system,” said Axelrod.

John R. Graham, director of health care studies at the Pacific Research Institute in California, says the bills being considered contradict Axelrod’s statements.

“Unfortunately, almost everything that the government has done with respect to health care over the last half century has had the opposite effect of that which Mr. Axelrod asserts is the administration’s goal,” Graham said. “Everything that I see in the bills under consideration dramatically increases the federal government’s control of Americans’ access to medical services and micromanages the practice of medicine while making incentives to invest in appropriate health insurance worse.”

Graham believes even without the public option, Washington is headed in the wrong direction.

“Whether the final bill includes a public option or not, the administration and Congress need to stop going down this path,” Graham said. “The place to start is by making health insurance the property of the individual, not his employer or the government.”

Ben Domenech ([email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.