By Ruy Teixeira
WASHINGTON, DC—The battle is underway over President Barack Obama’s ambitious plans to reform our health care system. And conservatives are thinking of every way they can to stall and eviscerate such reform.
One conservative argument is that, given our serious economic problems, we just can’t afford an ambitious undertaking like health care reform. But the public isn’t buying that argument. The public said in the latest Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll by 59-37 that, “it is more important than ever to take on health care reform now,” rather than “we cannot afford to take on health care reform now.”
If conservatives fail to stop action on health care reform, their backup plan is to weaken it as much as possible. The chief focus of these efforts will be elimination of a public plan option to keep insurance companies honest and provide a low-cost alternative. But the conservatives have a problem here too: The public strongly supports the inclusion of such an alternative as part of health care reform. The same poll found that 67 percent of the public supports creation of a “government-administered public health insurance option similar to Medicare to compete with private health insurance plans,” compared to just 29 percent who are opposed.
A key word here is “competition.” The public clearly sees that a public plan is critical to ensuring effective competition in the health care marketplace. By 57-39, they say the “better way to encourage health insurance companies to provide the best product” is to have private insurance companies and a public plan compete with one another rather than just have private insurance companies compete amongst themselves.
So, the message from the public to policymakers is: let’s get moving on health care reform and, no matter what the conservatives say, don’t forget the public plan!