Public Health Insurance Option ‘Makes Sense,’ Obama Says

By Staff Report

Jun. 24, 2009

President Barack Obama is speaking forcefully in favor of the inclusion of a public health insurance plan as part of health care reform, but he refused to say whether such a plan would be nonnegotiable as he pushes Congress to deliver a bill to his desk this summer.

During a briefing at the White House on Tuesday, June 23, Obama ignored the question the first time it was asked, and when another reporter repeated it, he responded, “Right now, I will say that our position is: A public option makes sense.”

Obama dismissed fears expressed by the health insurance industry and some lawmakers, including some in his own party, that a government-run plan would drive private insurers out of business.

“That defies logic,” Obama said.

“If they tell us they are offering a good deal [to consumers], and when they say the government can’t run anything, why would it drive them out of business?” Obama asked.

The question referred to a June 19 letter from America’s Health Insurance Plans and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association to Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, one of the leaders of reform efforts on the Hill, which argued that a public plan would have “devastating consequences on the health insurance coverage that employers and individuals currently have.”

Obama was challenged to concede that businesses are likely to drop the coverage they currently offer employees and turn instead to the less-expensive alternative offered by the government, even though he has said his plan will allow people to keep their health plans if they like them.

“The government is not going to make you change plans under health reform,” Obama responded.

If Congress fails to do anything, he added, people are likely to see higher premiums and reduced benefits, or lose coverage.

“I can guarantee there’s a possibility for a whole lot of Americans they’re not going to end up having the same coverage they have,” Obama said.

Filed by Gregg Blesch and Rebecca Vesely of Modern Healthcare, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail

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