“Guaranteed Choice” Will Win The Health Care Debate

Bill Scher

This week, the NBC/WSJ poll was knocked for dropping the word “choice” from its monthly question about the public health insurance plan option, which led to a drop in support for the idea.

Today, Huffington Post reports SurveyUSA has a new poll out showing a whopping 77% of Americans believe it’s “important” to “give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance.”

“Choice” is unquestionably key.

Interestingly, the same polls show more skepticism how well the public plan would work. A plurality of 46% believe the public plan “might not always have access to their choice of doctors” and would make “decisions that should be made instead by patients and doctors.”

But so long as it is clearly a choice whether or not you’re in the plan, the vast majority of folks are happy with the setup.

And this isn’t a disingenuous conservative version of “choice,” where you are tossed to the insurance company wolves with a meager tax credit, so you can “choose” between health plans you can’t afford and health plans that don’t cover anything.

The concept generally embraced in pending legislation is “guaranteed choice.” You are guaranteed the ability to choose between quality insurance plans.

All plans, public and private, must meet a basic standard. Most employers have to either provide coverage or chip in to pay for the public plan. And you’re coverage will be subsidized if you simply can’t otherwise afford it.

Guaranteed choice has consistently, over the last two years, received strong support in polls. It’s no wonder why President Obama emphasized the ability to choose while talking to conservative radio host Michael Smerconish today and one of his listeners:

Q I understand you’ve said that the federal health care plan for government employees is a pretty good plan.

THE PRESIDENT: It is.

Q And Congress has voted, to my understanding, not to join the public plan once it passes because they want to keep their good federal plan. Would you be willing to either urge Congress to have the federal employees join the public plan, or would you be willing to urge Congress to somehow open up the federal health plan to all Americans?

MR. SMERCONISH: Thank you, Ernie. I hear this all the time, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s a great question, Ernie. First of all, understand that currently federal employees have a very good health care plan because they’re able to leverage the insurance companies. There are so many members of their — of the federal workforce that they can get the best rates possible. Every insurance company wants to do business with the federal government. So premiums are lower and it’s a better deal overall.

The same concept is what we’re trying to do in setting up what’s called a health insurance exchange. Essentially it’d be a marketplace where people who currently don’t have health insurance or small businesses could pool their numbers so they have leverage over the insurance companies and they could go on a Web site and look at the various options, the types of various private health insurance plans that are being offered, and choose the one that’s best for their families. So we’re actually trying to duplicate what exists for federal employees. We want to make that available to everybody else.

Now, what we have said is, let’s make a public option one choice of many choices that are available to people who are joining the exchange. And I see nothing wrong with potentially having that public option as one option for federal employees, as well.

But the important thing that I think I have to make absolutely clear: Nobody would be obligated to choose the public option. If you went on that Web site and you said, you know what, Aetna or Blue Cross Blue Shield are offering a good deal and I would rather choose that plan than the public plan, you’d be perfectly free to do so. Nobody would be saying you are obligated to go into a public plan.

MR. SMERCONISH: I think what folks are saying is that they’d love it if you’d stand up and say, whatever it is that we’re creating, be it a co-op, be it a public option, whatever name ultimately might be ascribed to it, we in the executive branch, we in the Congress, we will live with exactly these parameters.

THE PRESIDENT: I think there would be — I think it would make perfect sense for us to make the public option available to federal employees, as well. But keep in mind it would just be a choice.

That’s the winning argument.

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