Probably the biggest problem with keeping the "public option" as part of health care reform is that people don't know what "public option" means. Is it an "option" that would be available to folks who can't get insurance any other way? I can imagine that many people think that's exactly what it would be -- but it isn't. Under all of the proposals under serious consideration in Congress, most folks who have insurance won't have access to the public option at all, let alone be left with it as their only option. But even for those with no insurance, the public option would be one choice available to them among many others -- and all of the other choices would be from private insurers.
In other words, the public option -- when it's available -- would always be a choice to be taken or not. No one would be forced to use it.
There's a Survey USA poll out today indicating that when the "public option" is described as a choice, 77 percent of Americans support it. When the word choice is omitted from the description, however, as it was in last week's NBC poll, support for the public option drops below 50 percent. Huffington Post has a good writeup on the two.
President Obama held a health care forum this afternoon with his Organizing for America troops to talk about -- per OFA's introduction -- "our strategy and message going forward." It came as the debate raged among his supporters about whether Obama is committed to the public option and will fight for it as a critical part of reform; or, alternatively, has given up on it and is prepared to settle for a reform bill without it. There's really no telling about that, I guess -- and Obama didn't address that question directly -- though I have to say that if he's fighting for it, he's been doing it one-handed.
It's about time.
Just as reform's opponents managed to turn voluntary end-of-life consultations with a doctor into "death panels," a ridiculous mis-characterization that the White House is finally managing to turn back on them, the opponents have managed to depict the public option as some sort of government takeover of health care. That's not true either, but until just now, I haven't heard the President really push back. If he does, he just might find that most Americans think -- as he says he does -- that a public option makes excellent sense and would, indeed, be an "important" component of health care reform.