Several weeks ago Digby and Blue America noticed that Blanche Lincoln, one of the few centrist Democrats facing re-election in 2010, was taking the side of the insurance companies over her constituents in the health care debate. She claimed that "if all Congress comes up with is a government-backed plan, then there will be very little incentive for the private industry to be able to be competitive perhaps in the plans they will be offering and the individuals they will be offering,” showing exactly where her sympathies lie - with those poor, henpecked insurance industry CEOs who scrape by on $14.9 billion dollars over five years.
So we decided to do something about it. Blue America kicked off the Campaign for Health Care Choice and produced three advertisements to press Lincoln on supporting a quality public insurance option to compete with private companies. Digby write the spots, John Amato helped with locations and logistics, I directed and edited them, Howie Klein managed the fundraising. Blue America held a contest to pick the best spot, and after raising $23,740, voters chose their favorite:
Today, we can announce that, before the spots even fully hit the airwaves in Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln is already hedging on her rejection of a public insurance option.
Lincoln, who’s getting hammered by ads demanding she commit to the public option, has now shifted towards supporting one, at least in rhetorical terms. In a piece for today’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, she says health care reform should include a public plan or a non-profit substitute.
Here’s the key graf from Lincoln (the piece is subscription only):
Health care reform must build upon what works and improve inefficiencies. Individuals should be able to choose from a range of quality health insurance plans. Options should include private plans as well as a quality, affordable public plan or non-profit plan that can accomplish the same goals as those of a public plan.
The assertion that reform “should” have a public plan or non-profit substitute is a shift from her previous position, which was only that she was “evaluating” a public plan or a substitute.
In this op-ed, Lincoln makes absolutely no mention of an employer mandate to provide coverage to their workers, which Wal-Mart, America's largest employer and a virtual kingmaker in Arkansas, signed onto this week. Instead, Lincoln goes out of her way to support a public insurance option in competition with private insurance. There are weasel words there, of course - note the "non-profit plan that can accomplish the same goals." And I don't doubt that Wal-Mart's general support of something called health care reform played a role. But in the final analysis, two events happened to Blanche Lincoln in health care recently - Wal-Mart's sign-on to the employer mandate and the prospect of Blue America running ads in her state ($25,000 can go a fairly long way on cable in Arkansas, by the way). She chose to specifically align herself with the element of health care policy that Blue America endorses.
But she's not all the way there, so we plan to keep pushing. But this should be a valuable lesson - every small thing you do to advance solutions to the health care crisis can make a difference. The political animals in the Senate know that on this high-profile vote, defying the public on a popular plank will cause them some difficulty. It's up to us to make sure of that.
Please support the Campaign for Health Care Choice so we can continue to raise the pressure on the ConservaDems who want to hijack this crucial policy goal.