Policy-ish

Howard Dean Stumps For The Public Option


We remember lo those many years ago when a New England governor, who was also a doctor, started making noise about running for president and improving health care.

Howard Dean

Howard Dean has high hopes for health care. Win McNamee/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Win McNamee/Getty Images

Howard Dean made it the top of the Democratic Party, though he never got to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Still, the former Vermont governor can't stop talking about health care. He's even got a book out on the subject.

These days he's on the stump to save the public option, a government-sponsored health plan that the administration wavered on then seems to have embraced again—maybe.

Why does the country need a public alternative? "The fact is that only Medicare has controlled costs better than the private sector," Dean tells All Things Considered's Robert Siegel on Friday. "Now Medicare doesn't do a terribly great job of controlling costs, but they do a much better job than private health insurance does."

To Dean, health overhaul without a choice of something really different (even if some people decide to stick with their current insurance) isn't worth the trouble.

One alternative he likes, letting adult Americans—not just senior citizens and the disabled—pay to get Medicare as their insurer. That would be a pretty quick and easy way to set up a public option, he says.

Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt doesn't think Medicare as a public option is such a hot idea, writing on the New York Times's Economix blog, "Medicare can hardly hold itself up as a beacon of smart cost control."

He understands American's desire for stable, reliable health coverage, but a public option isn't the only way to do it. Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland mange it without a government-run plan. The trade-off, though, is "fairly heavy regulation of the industry."

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