President Obama is a pretty good persuader, but he's been having a hard time selling his health care reform plan. His health care town hall meeting on ABC last Wednesday drew dismal ratings, garnering fewer viewers than a rerun of CSI: New York (and drawing gleeful responses from many of his non-fans). Meanwhile, some of his putative allies in the Democratic party have been sniping away at the plan, and negotiators in the senate have been slashing costs by lopping off some of the plan's most progressive elements, like subsidies for lower-income Americans to help them afford to buy insurance. (Huh? Wasn't helping the uninsured get insurance one of the main reasons for the plan in the first place?)
Cost isn't the only stumbling block for the plan. The other biggie is Obama's advocacy of the "public option" -- that is, a Medicare-like public insurance plan that would compete with private insurers. While some have made alarmist claims that such a plan would drive private insurers out of business, others simply complain that it would cost too much. Indeed, some note, when the Congressional Budget Office added up the costs of early versions of the bill, arriving at a total cost of $1.6 trillion, they did so without including the cost of a public plan. Just imagine, critics say, how much Obamacare will cost with the plan included!
These critics are looking at it backwards, say researchers at the liberal Economic Policy Institute: Including a public plan will actually reduce the overall costs of health care:
Indeed, they point out, one independent analysis found that having a public plan could actually save the US up to $1 trillion over ten years, while providing health care to all. Some of the elements of the plan contributing to that figure include increased competition among health care providers and lower administrative costs.
It's a compelling argument, and one that deserves to have a more central place in this debate, lest we nickel-and-dime ourselves into an anemic health care plan that ends up costing us more in the long run, while abandoning the goal of health care for the currently uninsured.