How Much Time Should Democrats Spend Promoting Their New Public Option?

Rep. Lynn Woosley, sponsor of the new public option bill, arm wrestles with Stephen Colbert

Rep. Lynn Woosley, sponsor of the new public option bill, arm wrestles with Stephen Colbert

Last week, while we were all at Netroots Nation, 128 House Democrats introduced a new public option bill that could reduce the deficit by $68 billion from 2014 to 2020 and offer premiums that “would be 5 to 7 percent lower than other private plans available within the exchange.” Emma Sandoe, who was gracious enough to do a post on this (including a very snazzy table), had this to say about the effort:

Realistically, this chances of this public option bill passing this Congress, who is exhausted from the last public option fight and in full midterm mode, are slim. This hasn’t deflated Woolsey who said, “This will be there for the next Congress.” Whether or not this proposal goes anywhere legislatively, it reminds more progressive voters and members of the party that the public option has not been forgotten. States have already begun showing support for public run insurance systems, this support from the federal government can work to galvanize the effort.

Democrats in progressive districts want to use the bill to turn out the base in November, and that’s a good thing. The public option is one of the most popular and controversial elements of health care reform and if structured correctly from a policy perspective, it could actually go a long way towards lowering health care costs and injecting some competition into insurance markets. We should welcome this move, but we should also urge Democrats to go further and spend equal energy on ensuring that the existing parts of the law, particularly the exchanges within which the public option will operate, are well implemented. After all, various parts of the health industry are busy influencing the implementation process and Democrats in Congress should too.

HCAN issued a report just last week about how the insurance industry is already spending millions of dollars to water down the medical loss ratio regulations and other sectors are undoubtedly working to craft their own regulatory exemptions. There are several progressive-based implementation efforts underway, but with the exception of a few dedicated health care wonks — Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) among them — few Democrats have spent time publicly countering the well-orchestrated industry lobby or pressuring the HHS Secretary and the other relevant agencies to issue regulations in the consumers’ interest.

But this fight is just as essential as the public option and Democrats should be holding Congressional hearings, working closely with their state insurance departments and legislatures, and doing all they can to ensure that the bill is properly implemented. If they don’t, we know that the industry will determine the effectiveness of reform, and in many respects, the future of the party.