09/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Acid Test: Progressive Groups, Unions, Liberal Dems Vow to Fight for Public Option

In the wake of the administration's signaling that it was willing to drop the public option, progressive groups, unions and liberal Democrats came out strongly for the key reform measure Monday. But will there be enough grass-roots activism to save the public option that a majority of the public favors?

Cross posted in the new In These Times labor and progressive blog:

On the Sunday talk shows, the Obama administration sent its strongest signal yet that it's willing to abandon a robust public option as a key part of health reform, setting up a likely fight with the Democratic Party's liberal wing and posing a challenge for progressive organizations and unions that have pushed hard for that approach.

On Monday, former DNC chairman Howard Dean said on MSNBC's Morning Joe that if he were a member of the Senate, he wouldn't vote for a final bill without a public option. But he believes the new signal from the White House about dropping the public option is part of a grand strategy to get the bill through the Senate with centrist Democrats on board. Then he sees the option being reinserted from a House version in a House-Senate conference, and attached to the budget bill, allowing for passage with a reconciliation rule -- i.e., with just 50 Senate votes, plus one, needed.

Of course, regardless of any political machinations, some progressives are still holding on to slim hopes in the mixed messages sent by the administration that the president supports a public option. But it's becoming clearer that the administration has decided that the provision is expendable.

Even so, progressives say they're still willing to fight for the public option, and take comfort from White House statements in support of it. Now the fight for the option becomes the acid test of progressives' dedication, organizing savvy and willingness to fight for the provision. As the Campaign for America's Future Bill Scher asked: "How Bad Do You Want the Public Option?"

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney proclaimed today union members will continue to push for this key reform: "A quality public health insurance option is a crucial part of health care reform to keep private insurance companies honest, hold down costs and ensure that everybody has a health care choice available."

And in an alert sent to supporters, the leading grass-roots coalition, Health Care for America Now, declared, "We Will Not Back Down." Online organizer Levana Layendecker redoubled her appeal for action:

The media and some politicians say we "don't have the votes" in the Senate for real health care reform with a strong public health insurance option.1 But poll after poll shows that three out of four of people want a public health insurance option to keep the insurance companies honest.2

Click here to call your Senators and ask them to support real reform - reform with a public health insurance option to keep the insurance companies honest.

The President's Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said today, "The President believes that the public option is the best idea he has seen for achieving the goals of lowering costs and increasing choice and competition." And Speaker Pelosi has made it clear that the House of Representatives won't pass a bill without a strong public option...

Unfortunately, some Senators are proposing state-based co-ops as an alternative. The non-partisan Government Accountability Office made clear that co-ops do nothing to lower the cost of insurance.4 And we know that only the government has the clout to force insurance companies to change the way they behave.

We need to get a simple message to Senators: Join with the majority of Americans to support a public option to lower costs and keep insurance companies honest. A co-op isn't a public insurance option.

Nonetheless, nonprofit, consumer-owned co-ops are getting another look in Congress. That approach is favored by centrist Democrat Kent Conrad, a key player in Senate Finance Committee negotiations over the bill, who declared on Sunday that the public option is dead.

Yet as Health Care for America Now has noted, along with Sen. Jay Rockefeller and other critics, there's little reason to believe in the successful impact on health reform of these regional, member-owned, nonprofit health insurance cooperatives, even backed by billions in federal funding. Critics say they can't be counted on as a likely pathway to accessible, affordable care that keeps insurance companies honest.

Senator Jay Rockefeller explained a few weeks ago (as summarized via HCAN Now! Blog):

Senator Rockefeller absolutely destroyed the idea of a co-op as a viable means of reforming our health care system. His main point: Co-ops are unproven ideas, with only a few examples that actually worked available throughout the country. What's more, no study has ever been done to figure out if these organizations work or affect the health care marketplace in any way. On top of that, there is no regulation on health care co-ops currently.

They are not a public health insurance option, and not a viable solution. Watch:


You can read more about the determination of progressive groups and leaders to fight for the public option, even if the White House is sending mixed signals about it, at the Working In These Times blog.