A public option in health care reform could be more easily sold to the public and to congresspeople if it were rebranded "Medicare for everybody," House Majority Whip James Clyburn says.


"I do believe it would be a good way to brand this," the South Carolina Democrat told MSNBC's Keith Olbermann Wednesday night. "Whatever this public option is, it should be called .. Medicare Part 'E,' the 'E' being for 'everybody.'"

While the idea of branding the public option as "Medicare" had been floated for some time, the notion took off among congressional Democrats following a caucus meeting last week, The Hill reports.

The strategy could benefit Democrats struggling to bridge the gap between liberals in their party, who want the public option, and centrists, who are worried it would drive private insurers out of business.

While much of the public is foggy on what a public option actually is, people understand Medicare. It also would place the new public option within the rubric of a familiar system rather than something new and unknown.

A notable incident last summer demonstrated the popularity of Medicare and the confusion over the public option when a man famously told Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

This week, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi threw her weight behind a robust public option, arguing for a plan that would reimburse hospitals at Medicare rates plus five percent. A recent report from the Congressional Budget Office stating that this public option would actually reduce the deficit has boosted Pelosi's fortunes.

The Hill credits Reps. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and Mike Ross (D-AK) with popularizing the idea that a public option could be more easily sold to the public as Medicare.

On MSNBC's Countdown, Clyburn credited both Oberstar and the show's host, Keith Olbermann, for the change in tactics on the Hill. And Olbermann himself wasn't above tooting his own horn, playing a clip from a "special comment" he broadcast several weeks ago, in which he stated:

Once you've said "Medicare for everybody," there would be just as much to explain. If you're under 65 you'd be paying for it; you wouldn't have to buy it; you wouldn't have to change from what you have now. There would be just as many caveats. Still, the intent of all this would be clearer. Medicare for everybody. Might not be literally true, but instead of terrifying it would be reassuring, and the explanations and caveats would be listened to and not shouted down in fear.

"The American public has been living with this brand for a long time, they understand it, they like it, they accept it, and I think that's all we're trying to do here, is expanding Medicare," Clyburn said.

This video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast Oct. 21, 2009.


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