Maybe the public option was just a stalking horse all along.
Sen. Conrad says it's time to stop chasing the public-option rabbit.
On the defensive about plans to overhaul health care, the Obama administration signaled over the weekend it might forgo a government-sponsored insurance option to get a deal done.
The whole idea of a public insurance option offered was to keep the for-profit companies honest in a revamped insurance marketplace.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told CNN on Sunday that a public plan was "not the essential element," in a health overhaul.
The shift may win some converts but may also alienate some of the bedrock supporters on the left. Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean is busy defending the public option, saying, "You can't really do health reform without it."
An alternative to a government plan could be consumer-owned co-ops. In then Senate, Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) is pushing an idea for nonprofit cooperatives that would sell insurance, kind of like rural co-ops for electricity. There simply aren't enough votes in the Senate for the public plan, Conrad told Fox on Sunday, adding, "So to continue to chase that rabbit, I think, is just a wasted effort."
David Axelrod, Obama's top political brain, underscored the administration's flexibility on the precise nonprofit alternative it would like to implement alongside private health insurance, the New York Times reports. A public plan might still be the president's top choice, but Axelrod said that approach had never been "carved in stone."
Time's Karen Tumulty says nobody should be surprised by the apparent shift because, "the fact is that Obama's stand on the public option has never fit neatly into the narratives on either side of the political aisle."
She writes that the government-sponsored alternative was always only one means to an end—an inexpensive option that would guarantee competition in every market. Dropping the public plan now might keep a few centrists on board and reduce a growing distraction in the administration's push for an overhaul.
Question of the day: Would dropping the public option improve the chance for passage of a health overhaul?