Schumer: Co-Ops are No Substitute for Public Option

CBS News reports that some Democrats are feeling emboldened by recent polls showing overwhelming public support for providing people with a public-sector alternative to for-profit health insurance.

Behind-the-scenes attempts to get a deal with Republicans on nonprofit co-ops as an alternative to a public plan have led only to frustration, complains a key Democrat. He and his colleagues may have to go it alone, said Sen. Chuck Schumer. The co-ops were seen as perhaps the last hope for compromise on a contentious issue that threatens any remaining prospects of bipartisan support for President Obama’s sweeping plan to remake the health care system.

“I don’t think I could say with a straight face that this (co-op proposal) is at all close to a nationwide public option,” Schumer, D-N.Y., told The Associated Press on Sunday. “Right now, this co-op idea doesn’t come close to satisfying anyone who wants a public plan.”

I think this is arguably the virtue of having different kinds of bills wending their way through congress. I think a robust public option is very important. But there are a lot of moving parts to health reform, and it’s not the only important thing. The bill the Senate Finance Committee’s written, which has no public plan but does have a lot of virtues, provides an important test. Will Republicans actually flock to support the bill? If they will, then that’s something worth thinking about. A public plan is important, but if you could get leading Republicans to sign on to the idea of tough new regulations on insurers, on an expansion of Medicaid, on subsidies to ensure that insurance is affordable for everyone, and on higher taxes to pay for the whole thing that would be no small achievement. You’d have to think seriously about whether it isn’t worth cutting a deal. But thus far, for all the whining about the public plan I’m not seeing the evidence that they’re actually willing to embrace the rest of the health reform agenda, either. In which case, you may as well go forward with a robust public plan. And I think it’s important for Democrats to stop hiding behind Republicans on this. People who say they’re leery of a public plan because they want a bipartisan bill need to either produce some Republicans who are willing to support their ideas, or else admit that it’s they themselves who are blocking the public option.