On Labor Day Obama Sends More Lukewarm Signals About the Public Option

President Obama spoke today at the AFL-CIO Labor Day picnic in Cincinnati, OH, and supporters of the public option are sure to be disappointed by the fact that Obama dedicated exactly one line of his speech to the public option. Obama did say that that the nation has never been this close to healthcare reform, but it seems that his idea of reform does not have to include a public option.

Obama said, “We’ve never been this close. We’ve never had such broad agreement on what needs to be done. And because we’re so close to real reform, the special interests are doing what they always do-trying to scare the American people and preserve the status quo.”

The president also challenged his opponents, “But I’ve got a question for them: What’s your answer? What’s your solution? The truth is, they don’t have one. It’s do nothing. And we know what that future looks like. Insurance companies raking in the profits while discriminating against people because of pre-existing conditions and denying or dropping coverage when you get sick. It means you’re never negotiating about higher wages, because you’re spending all your time just protecting the benefits you already have.”

Here is the one line that he dedicated to public option, “I see reform where Americans and small businesses that are shut out of health insurance today will be able to purchase coverage at a price they can afford. Where they’ll be able to shop and compare in a new health insurance exchange-a marketplace where competition and choice will continue to hold down cost and help deliver them a better deal. And I continue to believe that a public option within the basket of insurance choices would help improve quality and bring down costs.”

President Obama appears to have shifted from healthcare reform to health insurance reform, “I see reform where we protect our senior citizens by closing the gaps in their Medicare prescription coverage that costs millions of older Americans thousands of dollars every year out of their own pockets; reforms that will preserve Medicare and put it on a sounder financial footing by cutting waste and fraud and the more than one hundred billion dollars in unwarranted public subsidies to an already profitable insurance industry.”

Obama laid out his overall goal, “I want a health insurance system that works as well for the American people as it does for the insurance industry. They should be free to make a profit. But they also have to be fair. They also have to be accountable. Security and stability for folks who have health insurance. Help for those who don’t-the coverage they need at a price they can afford. Finally bringing costs under control. That’s the reform we need.”

It is becoming obvious that while Obama would like to have a public option, he is not going to sacrifice passing a bill to fight for it. I could be being overly cynical, but I have a feeling that the public option is already well on its way to being off the table. The president has shifted his emphasis from healthcare reform to health insurance reform.

Obama didn’t mention anything about universal coverage, or a mandate. The teeth have been taken out of this reform. If Congress ends up passing a bill without universal coverage, a mandate, and a public option, it will do precious little to provide coverage for the uninsured, because this bill does not address the problem of health insurance for those who can’t afford it. It hopes that lower costs will allow people to buy insurance, but there is nothing to ensure that those without insurance will have to be covered.

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