MEDICARE PART E…. The first time I ran across someone calling the public option “Medicare Part E” was a month ago, when Mark Kleiman recommended it. Apparently, Thom Hartmann started using the same phrase in early September.

And while we’re a little late in the game to start rebranding, this alternate framing seems to be gaining some traction.

Say hello to “Medicare Part E” — as in, “Medicare for Everyone.”

House Democrats are looking at re-branding the public health insurance option as Medicare, an established government healthcare program that is better known than the public option.

The strategy could benefit Democrats struggling to bridge the gap between liberals in their party, who want the public option, and centrists, who are worried it would drive private insurers out of business.

While much of the public is foggy on what a public option actually is, people understand Medicare. It also would place the new public option within the rubric of a familiar system rather than something new and unknown.

At a recent Democratic House caucus meeting, Reps. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) all voiced support for the idea. A spokesman for Oberstar explained, “One of his concerns is that people don’t know what a public option is. Medicare is a public option.”

Folks are just now figuring that out?

As it turns out, reform advocates may not even bother with the rebranding effort, since the public option already enjoys broad national support, which seems to keep going up (though one wonders if the polls would be even better had “Part E” been the rhetorical norm from the beginning). So, don’t necessarily count on a big p.r. push on this, though we may start hearing the phrase far more often.

For their part, Republicans continue to doubt their lying eyes. A spokesperson for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) added, “No matter how the Democrats ‘re-brand’ their government takeover of healthcare, the American people oppose it.”

This might make more sense if there weren’t so much overwhelming evidence pointing in the opposite direction.

As for the bigger picture, publius raised a good point.

What is unfortunate, though, is that the label change is even necessary in the first place. As virtually everyone agrees, Medicare is a very good program — it has improved lives and reduced fear in an infinite number of concrete ways. But it is a public program. It should, therefore, be a testament to government’s ability to help people.

The fact that the term “public option” is tainted in many people’s eyes shows that progressives still need to show people that government has been, and can be, a force for good. We should advertise it more. It’s unfortunate that socialized, single-payer Medicare could be so popular with people who are so ideologically opposed to something called the “public option.”

Fortunately, of course, those who are so ideologically opposed are in the minority. The majority already supports a public option — weak framing and all — and if “Medicare Part E” can help sell the measure to some of the remaining critics a bit as the discussion enters the home stretch, so be it.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. 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.