Critical Condition

The Public Option Is No Option

In his address before Congress tonight, President Obama has little choice but to continue expressing support for a new government-run health program. The most vocal support for his health-reform agenda is coming from labor unions, which have threatened to walk away if the public-plan option is yanked from the bill.

This creates an impossible Catch-22. The public plan has become a lightning-rod issue that signals the Left’s agenda of expanded government control over our health sector; without it, the president loses his base of support for passage. But after witnessing their constituents’ outrage over the last five weeks, conservative Democrats in Congress recognize that their own reelection could be in jeopardy next year if they support a bill that contains a public plan.

The president must walk a fine, fine line — perhaps a non-existent line — in his speech tonight. Expect him to say that he supports the public plan, but he will not wave a pen and threaten to veto a bill that doesn’t contain it.

Even without a public plan, though, the legislation before Congress would send us down the same path. Our health sector is on a precipice, with government programs financing nearly half of all health care today. The reform proposals pending in Congress would leave the private health sector in place in name only.

The changes that H.R. 3200 and the Senate committee bills propose would very quickly send us down the path of government control over the rest of our health sector. Insurance providers would become little more than regulated utilities, and health plans, employers, and individuals would be forced to follow tens of thousands of pages of government regulations that would dictate what their insurance must cover, how much they must pay, and how care will or will not be delivered.

While the legislation may not lead to government ownership of our health sector, it certainly would quickly lead to government control. The American people understand this and are telling their elected representatives as loudly as they know how that they do not want this. They are studying the facts for themselves and are not being fooled by rhetoric.

The Republican response to the president’s speech tonight presents a huge opportunity for members to show the American people that they have heard what their constituents have been saying during town-hall meetings across the country. The people clearly do not want one big health-reform bill that would make too many changes too fast — whether it is offered by Democrats or Republicans. That scares people.

Instead of one alternative big bill, conservatives should propose a Health Care Freedom Contract, with a list of the policy changes that their constituents have told them they support. They should make a list of the changes, such as medical-malpractice reform, new funding and incentives for states to create safety nets for those with pre-existing conditions, cross-state purchasing of health insurance, making sure that any health-reform law also applies to members of Congress, affordability credits, etc.

Then conservatives can tell the American people they will take a step-by-step approach to reform in a fully transparent process, making sure citizens are consulted and engaged in the discussion as a number of different, smaller bills are presented and considered.

This would send a positive message that would resonate with the American people. Finally, and all too rarely where the federal government is involved, they would see that someone is listening to them.