More trigger talk?

MORE TRIGGER TALK?…. Talk of a public option “trigger” as part of health care reform gained some attention earlier this month, but it quickly faded. Brian Beutler reports this morning that a key Republican senator is reviving the idea.

This idea sort of came and went a few weeks ago, but some legislators just can’t let it go. According to the Associated Press, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME)–a potentially key moderate on the Senate Finance Committee–hasn’t forsworn signing on to a health reform bill that includes a public option. But she’s holding out to see it affixed to a “trigger mechanism,” which would, in theory, give insurance companies a years-long window to lower costs on their own and only “trigger” the public option if they failed to do so.

“If you establish a public option at the forefront that goes head-to-head and competes with the private health insurance market … the public option will have significant price advantages,” Snowe said. But this was her argument against making the public option available as soon as the bill becomes law.

It’s a reminder of why this policy debate has been so frustrating — a few too many of those involved believe we must avoid positive developments.

As you’ve probably heard, a public option would improve the system by lowering costs, expanding access, and using competition to improve efficiency. Those who like the idea of a “trigger” argue that if we pass a reform package and private insurers can lower costs, expand access, and improve efficiency on their own, we wouldn’t need a public option. It’s better, they say, to wait for the system to get really awful before utilizing a public option to make things better.

The problem should be obvious: if proponents of such an idea realize that a public option would necessarily improve the overall system — and they must, otherwise there would be no need for the trigger to kick in when things got even worse — then why deliberately delay implementation of the part of the policy that lawmakers already realize would help?

Or, put another way, if Snowe knows a public option is a good idea, there’s no reason to push it off to some arbitrary date in the future, as the system deteriorates in the interim.