As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, August 28, 2009

Reid On Board With Public Option

Strong words from Harry Reid on the public option.

Reid opened a private meeting of health care providers in Las Vegas on Tuesday by saying, according to one attendee who took notes: “We have a problem in America and it’s called the private insurance industry.”

Reid went on to express support for a public option, the proposed government-run insurance plan that he compared to Medicare, saying any meaningful reform legislation would have to include a public component.

Nevada’s main progressive group said the majority leader’s comments during Tuesday’s meeting of about 20 hospital CEOs, doctors and other health care providers was among the most significant statements they have heard on his thinking.

“We’re energized and we’re also confident that Sen. Reid is on the right side on this issue,” said Michael Ginsburg, a community organizer at the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, who attended the meeting. “That’s something we can take to our supporters and reassure them.”

Couple things here. First of all, Reid is up for re-election and it's going to be a dogfight, with Reid already behind in the polls. Because of his leadership position, he is caricatured by the right as a liberal ideologue, and members of his own party find him not able to compete procedurally in the Senate and get the Democratic agenda passed. But Reid has always been solid on fighting the insurance industry, which he once called the enemy of most everything we do today. And that principle has held up, despite his re-election battle. Surely Reid knows that Democrats must pass a bill if they have any hope of a decent showing in the 2010 midterms.

Second thing is that this offers good evidence that Reid may split the bill, getting the public option and other budget-related measures through on reconciliation, with the non-budget items coming in a second bill under regular rules with 60 votes. The second bill could wait until a successor is elected for Sen. Kennedy, by January 26 at the latest, if not earlier if the law is changed. Anthony Wright has a good piece about bill-splitting examples in the states when it comes to health care reform. Policy should trump process in this case.

Third thing is that Reid should threaten to repeal the McCarran-Ferguson Act that gave the insurance industry an anti-trust exemption. This has allowed the insurance industry to highly concentrate in almost every state market and has offered precious little choice. Just the buzz of repealing McCarran-Ferguson will send the insurance industry into battle mode, and the public option would be seen as practically benign by comparison.

...or, maybe, not at all.

During a tele-townhall with constituents today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he supports a public option...but then he added an extremely important caveat. Reid said he doesn't think the public option ought to be a government run program like Medicare, but instead favors a "private entity that has direction from the federal government so people that don't fall within the parameters of being able to get insurance from their employers, they would have a place to go."

That sounds suspiciously like Reid would prefer a so-called co-op system, which almost all reformers regard with suspicion, and many regard as a non-starter.

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