Obama Emphasizes Support for Public Plan Option

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , June 24, 2009

In a White House press briefing Tuesday, President Barack Obama said he continues to support a public plan option—along with controlling healthcare costs—as part of a broader healthcare reform package.

In the process, though, he is being challenged by the health insurance industry, which is trying to scuttle the public plan idea.

"Our top priority has to be to control costs—and that means not just tinkering around the edges," he said. "It means that we look at the kinds of incentives that exist . . . figuring out how can we make sure that everybody is benefitting from lower costs and better quality by improving practice."

But in addition to the cost issues, "I think it's also wise policy and the right thing to do to start providing coverage to people who don't have health insurance or are underinsured," he said. "That has to be part of reform."

Obama challenged arguments recently expressed in a letter sent by the America's Health Insurance Plans and Blue Cross Blue Shield Association to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that said a government-run health plan would "exacerbate the cost-shifting that already occurs from public programs to private payers as a result of the inadequate reimbursement rates that Medicare and Medicaid pay to hospitals and physicians."

Obama questioned why they thought a public plan would it drive private insurance out of business: "If private insurers says that the marketplace provides the best quality healthcare if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government—which they say can't run anything—suddenly is going to drive them out of business. That's not logical."

Obama declined to say whether he would not support a reform package without a public plan option. "We are still early in this process so we have not drawn lines in the sand other than [to say] that reform has to control costs—and it has to provide relief to people who don't have health insurance or are underinsured," he said. "Right now, I will say that our position is that a public plan makes sense."

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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