Whither The Public Option?

Will it stay or will it go? The prospect of a government-run insurance alternative continues to dominate the debate over health overhaul, sharpening questions about whether President Obama's package for change can make it through Congress if the public option is included.

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On one hand, the administration says it will consider other methods to assure competition and choice in the insurance marketplace, yet it hasn't pulled the divisive proposal off the table. Obama "prefers the public option," but would contemplate alternatives, his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said on CNN's State of the Union over the weekend.

On the other hand, Obama's top adviser David Axelrod gave a more pointed defense of the public option, saying on CBS's Face The Nation, "I'm not willing to accept that it's not going to be in the final package."

The public option two-step isn't cutting it with some moderates, including Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, who called the administration's continued jawboning in favor of a public option "unfortunate" on Face the Nation just a few minutes after Axelrod supported it.

The public option is "universally opposed by all Republicans in the Senate," Snowe said. And therefore, there's no way to pass a plan that includes the public option." Remove the public plan, she said, and the administration will remove "a roadblock to building the kind of consensus that we need to move forward."

Dropping it might even help garner support from Obama's own party. Take Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, who said of the public option, "Many of us believe that it will undermine the private insurance system."

A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted after Obama's speech to Congress shows 55 percent of Americans support a public option compared with 42 percent opposed to it. When it comes to getting a deal done, though, 48 percent say they oppose the proposed changes to health versus 46 percent in favor.

Drop the public plan and the numbers look marginally better, 50 percent say they would support an overhaul plan if the public option were dropped compared with 42 percent who would still oppose it.

Health Blog Question of the Day: What's your prediction for the fate of the public option?



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