Worth fighting for or not?

WORTH FIGHTING FOR OR NOT?…. When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) included a public option in the Senate version of health care reform, there was a sense of relief among proponents of the idea. When the motion to proceed passed (barely) with the public option intact, reform advocates were again pleased.

But as attention turned to the end game, and the public option emerged as arguably the biggest hurdle to overcoming Republican obstructionism, I’ve noticed a new argument among some public-option supporters: the current version of the public option may not be worth fighting for.

If you’ve followed the debate, you know the public option that’s survived is a shell of its original self. We’re talking about a plan that a fairly small percentage of the population will be eligible to participate in, which features negotiated rates, and which states can opt out of.

A week ago, Josh Marshall was among the first to argue that this incarnation may not be worth the effort, calling what’s left of the public option “measly,” and not worth delaying the larger reform effort over. He added that the proposed plan would likely become “a dumping ground for what health care policy types call ‘creaming’ — health insurers wanting to maintain pools of the young and the healthy and dump responsibility for the aged and chronically ill on to public programs or on to nothing at all.” Soon after, Tim F. added, “[W]ithout some major changes the public option is going to suck.”

It now seems like I’m seeing the same argument pop up all over the place. Paul Starr wrote in the NYT yesterday:

According to the Congressional Budget Office, [the current version of the public option] would enroll less than 2 percent of the population and probably have higher premiums than private plans. For progressives to say they will block reform without a public option is not just foolish, but potentially tragic if it results in legislative deadlock. […]

Liberals should be prepared to give up what is now a mere symbol for changes in the bill that would deliver affordable insurance more effectively and quickly to the millions of Americans who desperately need it.

A USA Today editorial, which supports of the idea of competing public and private plans, added this morning that the provision has been “weakened” and “diluted.” The piece added, “As things stand, it’s a wonder that so many people are fighting so much over something so toothless.”

Matt Yglesias didn’t go quite so far as to say the provision is no longer worth pursuing, but he concluded that the remaining public option has been “defined down to something that’s much less significant.”

If this approach catches on among lawmakers, we can probably guess what’s going to happen to the provision. There are several Democratic senators who’ve been pushing hard for a public option since the beginning, but if they come to believe that what’s left of the measure is hardly worth fighting for, and reform proponents fear that the remaining public option won’t be effective, they’ll invest their energies elsewhere.