Aug. 18 (Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama is facing pressure from fellow Democrats after a top administration official suggested the president may back down from including a federal insurance plan in a U.S. health-care overhaul.
“There is strong support in the House for a public option,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said yesterday. “A public option is the best option to lower costs, improve the quality of health care, ensure choice and expand coverage.”
Other Democrats called on the president to stand by his commitment to create the government-run plan to compete with private companies, saying they wouldn’t be able to support any health-reform measure that lacked such an option.
Representative Maxine Waters of California said she was “very troubled to hear that after months of negotiations, supposedly moving toward meaningful health-care reform, the public option may in fact be off the table.”
Republicans and some Democrats oppose the creation of a federal plan, saying it would undercut private insurers and give the government too great a role in health care. Lawmakers have fielded questions on the topic from constituents at town-hall meetings throughout the nation during their August recess. Legislation approved by three House committees and one Senate panel includes a government-run health plan.
Obama’s Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius suggested on Aug. 16 the administration may be retreating from the plan, saying that providing citizens with the alternative of government-run insurance isn’t vital to the health-care overhaul.
“What’s important is choice and competition,” Sebelius said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” The public option itself “is not the essential element.”
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration’s position is unchanged. Obama would like to include a government-run program as an option for consumers in a proposed health-care overhaul, Gibbs said yesterday.
“His preference is a public option,” Gibbs told reporters on Air Force One. “If there are other ideas, he’s happy to look at them.”
All six companies in the Standard & Poor’s managed care index rose yesterday, ranging from Aetna Inc.’s 4.7 percent increase to a 1.5 percent gain for Minnetonka, Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group Inc., the largest U.S. health insurer.
‘Less Than Dire’
“Given the market has been pricing in a very dire situation for the insurers, anything less than dire is a positive,” said Les Funtleyder, a health-care strategist with Miller Tabak & Co. in New York.
For Obama, the support of centrist Democrats in the Senate as well as a group of House lawmakers who have raised concerns about the $1 trillion cost of the overhaul is crucial. Yet he risks losing members of his party who advocate for a strong public plan.
“This is very much a thread-the-needle kind of legislative process,” said Democratic consultant Peter Fenn. “There are a lot of people who are going to be very disappointed if it turns out this doesn’t have a public option.”