What Do Americans Want On Health Care?

11/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A year ago, it was clear that most Americans wanted health care reform. They still do. But along the way, Washington has cut them out of the process.

This summer, lawmakers took a lesson from town hall meetings back home. Members endured angry, scared voters. Some of the protesters were acting on their own, some as part of organized efforts. Either way, it had a chilling effect on members of both parties.

Members of Congress returned to Washington with the idea that the issue of health care reform is a political football with two clear sides. The dividing line was determined to be the public option. Thus, members with liberal and progressive bases fight for it, and members with conservative bases are fighting against it.

But what if the message members brought home is wrong? What if most people don't see the public option as the dividing line that government and the insurance industry do? What if, in 2010, a vote against the public option is seen as a vote for big business, and a vote for the public option is viewed as a vote for big-government. Alternately, what if very few Americans see through the prism through which partisans are framing this debate, and their views are as varied as the population itself?

The real tension about the public option is this: partisanship has confused the issue to the point that regular Americans no longer feel they can trust what lawmakers say. After a summer of yelling, fear, and no compromise, it is very hard to tell what the public thinks about the pubic option or many other aspects of health care reform legislation being considered. We know people want insurance, and health care. That is what we knew a year ago, and that is pretty much all we know now.

There are two key players who have indicated they may be willing take or leave the public option in order to get a bill passed. They are Sen. Snowe and President Obama.

A public option would make the bill acceptable to Democrats alone. Amidst criticism, the President has signaled willingness to sign legislation with or without this divisive, hot-button element. Unlike Snowe, he prefers a public option, but has not said he would veto a bill without one. Strange that so few are willing to consider other, alternative options that would get bipartisan support.