Choice and a public option

CHOICE AND A PUBLIC OPTION…. It seems some of the opposition to a public option in health care reform has to do with a misconception: that it would be mandatory.

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), the Blue Dog point-man on health care, said yesterday he would not vote for a plan that would “force government-run healthcare on anyone. Period.” But he added that the House contained a public plan that is “strictly … an option.”

Given the name — “public option” has the word “option” in it — I’d hoped that was obvious. It’s not. When pollsters ask about a public option, lately, there’s been a lot of opposition. When pollsters ask about the policy and ask if people want the choice, the results are far more encouraging.

More than three out of every four Americans feel it is important to have a “choice” between a government-run health care insurance option and private coverage, according to a public opinion poll released on Thursday.

A new study by SurveyUSA puts support for a public option at a robust 77 percent, one percentage point higher than where it stood in June.

This comes on the heels of an NBC poll. In June, the poll asked respondents if they thought it was important to “give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance.” A total of 76% thought it was important. When NBC changed the wording, and dropped the concept of choice, support for the public option plummeted to 43%.

This should offer reformers a pretty big hint about how to frame the pitch: reform would offer Americans a choice between private insurers or a voluntary public option, which would compete to help lower costs.

Dems should also be prepared to press opponents on this. “I think consumers should have a choice between competing private and public plans. Why don’t you want American families to have a chioce?”