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Public option inventor: ‘I still believe in this bill”

By Sahil Kapur
Sunday, December 20, 2009 14:39 EDT
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WASHINGTON — The intellectual father of the public option on Sunday declared that its removal from the health care bill was not reason enough to oppose the legislation.

“It would therefore be tempting for me,” Hacker wrote in an op-ed for The New Republic, “to side with Howard Dean and other progressive critics who say that health care reform should now be killed.”

“It would be tempting, but it would be wrong,” he continued, saying he was “devastated” by the removal of the provision.

“Opportunities for serious health reform have come only rarely and fleetingly,” Hacker wrote. “If this opportunity passes, it will be very long before the chance arrives again. Many Americans will be gravely hurt by the delay.”

Hacker said the public option “was always a means to an end,” the end being greater choice and competition in the insurance marketplace that would increase coverage and ensure that the sick get care when they need it.

“Yet its demise–in this round,” he continued, “does not diminish the immediate necessity of those larger aims.” The current bill, he argued, “could move us substantially toward those goals.”

Hacker said the bill achieves “three vital reforms” even without a public option. First, it creates an insurance exchange accessible to many who aren’t presently covered. It also provides subsidies, he said, for low-income individuals to purchase insurance. And, it bans private insurers from denying care to the sick.

All of these objectives are tougher without a government-run insurance option, Hacker explained, but he called them “signal achievements” that were “politically unthinkable just a few years ago.”

Hacker also voiced his concerns about the controversial mandate, arguing that it should be rendered unnecessary by making coverage “more attractive and easier to obtain.”

The Yale professor warned that the failure of this bill would be a “crippling loss” for President Obama, and Democrats would as a result be “branded as unable to govern.”

He said that “progressives have good reason to be angry,” but should utilize that anger to improve health care this year and and in the future.

“So a bill must pass,” Hacker concluded. “Yet it must be a better bill that passes. And  it must be understood by the President, the Congress and every American as only a step — an important but ultimately incomplete step — toward the vital goal that the campaign for the public option embodied: good affordable health care for every American.”

Democrats announced on Saturday that they had the 60 backers necessary to call for a final vote on the legislation.

Following the removal of the public option and Medicare buy-in, Dean led progressive activists in opposing the bill, but on Sunday tempered his opposition, suggesting it could instead by improved in conference committee.

Numerous progressive thinkers and policy wonks, including Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein, have agreed with Hacker that the remaining legislation is still worth passing.

Former President Bill Clinton, whose effort to pass health reform failed in 1994, said it would be a “colossal blunder” to scrap the bill now.

 
 
 
 
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