On Bloomberg’s Political Capital this weekend, host Al Hunt asked Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) what he thought of the “tone and substance” of President Obama’s press conference this week. Like he has said before, Grassley underscored his opposition to a public health insurance option.
In a call with progressive bloggers a day before the press conference, Obama said he continues to “believe that a robust public option would be the best way to go.” In the press conference itself, Obama said a public option is necessary “to keep the insurance companies honest” and his view that by taking “some of the profit motive out,” you can get a “better deal” for consumers.
But in his interview with Hunt, Grassley claimed that Obama has told him privately that he is willing to consider “reasonable alternatives” to a robust public option:
GRASSLEY: One of the most controversial things we are facing — and one that the House does and Senator Kennedy’s committee does — is bring a government health insurance program into existence. He still spoke highly about that. And that’s not going to get bipartisan support.
And it would have been good if he had said to the entire country what he said to me privately — that he would look to alternatives for that. And we have a very good alternative by going with cooperatives because we’ve known them for 150 years in America. And allowing them to sell health insurance for more competition.
HUNT: Do you think the President could support that?
GRASSLEY: All I can tell you is — but he didn’t say this that night and he should have said it — that he’s looking for reasonable alternatives. And I think we have a reasonable bipartisan alternative in co-ops.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has previously indicated a willingness to support a co-op proposal. But as former Gov. Howard Dean has said, the co-ops would be “too small to compete with the big, private insurance companies.” As Dean notes, co-ops are a solution “for the Senate problem,” but not a fix for “the American problem” of getting affordable coverage for all. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said that “this co-op idea doesn’t come close to satisfying anyone who wants a public plan.”
Carl McDonald and James Naklicki at Oppenheimer’s Equity Research department write, “As the co-ops are currently described, we think they would be a big positive for the managed care group, but it seems to us that they would be destined to fail from the moment of creation.” Co-ops would also take decades to set up, according to experts.