Most of the health reform talk this summer has centered on how the Obama administration is implementing the new law or how its passage will affect lawmakers in the mid-terms elections. But last week, some Democrats in the House changed the conversation, bringing back a debate about the creation of a government-run health plan or “public option.” Rep. Pete Stark (D.-Calif.) led a group of House Democrats in introducing legislation (H.R. 5808) to establish a public health insurance plan to compete alongside private insurers in the Health Insurance Exchanges that will be created under the Affordable Care Act.
Rep. Stark said the public option is needed to create competition. He cited some recent double-digit premium increases by health plans and the plans’ big profits. Democrats who signed on to support the bill also touted the public option as a way to cut the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office analyzed the legislation and concluded that it would save about $68 billion from 2014 through 2020 and that the premiums charged by the public plan would be 5% to 7% lower than those charged by private plans in the exchange.
But will the legislation gain any political traction? It’s certainly an uphill battle. The mid-term elections are only a few months away and many Democrats are vulnerable this year. That means there’s not likely to be a lot of substantive lawmaking happening between now and the end of the year. And when the new Congress returns in January, there may be fewer Democrats left to support adding the public option to the health reform law.
Hear more about the public option bill, comparative effectiveness research, and the next steps in health reform implementation in this week’s edition of the Policy & Practice Podcast.
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— Mary Ellen Schneider (on Twitter @MaryEllenNY)