Could Obama settle for a co-op plan?

COULD OBAMA SETTLE FOR A CO-OP PLAN?…. President Obama chatted with Time‘s Karen Tumulty about health care policy, and the two touched briefly on a public option. Tumulty said there’s some ambiguity about how, specifically, the policy would work, and the president talked about a “self-sustaining” program, financed “through premiums,” that would “compete with private insurers.”

The reporter asked whether a co-op would “fit that definition.” Obama responded:

“Well, I think in theory you can imagine a cooperative meeting that definition. Obviously sort of the legal structure of it is less important than practically how can it operate. There are concerns that in the past, attempts at setting up co-ops have not been successful because they just haven’t been able to get off the ground; sort of the start-up energy involved may not exist if you’re doing a state-by-state co-op effort as opposed to a broad national plan.”

Before anyone says, “Obama is lowering the bar and willing to accept a co-op!” notice the details here. The president said, as recently as last week, co-ops have struggled “because they don’t have the scale and the resources to be able to compete effectively.”

It’s why he talked to Tumulty about a “broad national plan,” as opposed to regional or state co-ops that fail to include a large enough base of employers and individuals with purchasing power. As Brian Beutler explained, Obama’s remarks on this are roughly the Schumer position — if a co-operative can operate like a national government-run insurance program, then he’d likely support it.”

That said, if the discussion shifts to how best to craft a functional co-op system, it’s almost certainly shifting away from how to implement a public plan.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.