EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 6, 2009

Public health insurance: Dead or alive?

By Taylor Armerding

Will President Barack Obama's proposed health care reform bill contain a government-funded insurance plan, commonly known as the "public option"?

Nobody knows for sure.

A number of Republican legislators have declared that the public option is dead.

And President Obama, who said for months that a public option was an essential element of health care reform, suddenly backed off of that last month. At a town-hall-style meeting in Colorado, he said that while he strongly favored it, it was not essential.

"The public option, whether we have it or don't have it, is not the entirety of health care reform," he said. "This is just one sliver, one aspect of it."

The president said he was open to an alternative being developed in the Senate — a nonprofit health cooperative.

But that brought heat from prominent Democrats like former presidential candidate and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean, and Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, who said, "I am not interested in passing health care reform in name only."

In fact, without the public option, House Democrats say it is unlikely there would be enough support in the House to pass the bill.