Howard Dean says a public option is a sine qua non of health coverage reform. I'll let Robert Reich carry the argument further:
Without a public, Medicare-like option, health care reform is a bandaid for a system in critical condition. There's no way to push private insurers to become more efficient and provide better value to Americans without being forced to compete with a public option. And there's no way to get overall health-care costs down without a public option that has the authority and scale to negotiate lower costs with pharmaceutical companies, doctors, hospitals, and other providers -- thereby opening the way for private insurers to do the same.
And what of the non-profit health cooperatives being suggested as a sufficiently tolerable alternative that could pass the Senate?
Senator Kent Conrad's ersatz public option -- his regional "cooperatives" -- won't have the scale or authority to do what a public option would do. That's why some Republicans say they could buy it. What's Conrad's response? "The fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the United States Senate for a public option. There never have been," he tells "FOX News Sunday." Conrad is wrong. If Obama tells Senate Democrats he will not sign a healthcare reform bill without a public option, there will be enough votes in the United States Senate for a public option [Reich 2009.08.17].
President Obama should not have to compromise to appease opponents who are willing to use any means necessary, including manufactured rage and outright deceit, to protect a broken status quo. It's time to stand for what's right, not what polls well with lobbyists. Let's push that House vote on single-payer. Let's show just how much support there is for real health coverage reform. And let's make clear that the public option is the rock-bottom compromise position.
Mr. Obama, we did not elect you to give in to willful deceit and ignorance. Spend that political capital, fight for the public option.
(Besides, how will the Republican cries of "Socialism!" and "Tyranny!" stick if you don't create the one big government program that scares them the most? ;-) )
Update 13:20 CDT: But I agree with Ned Hodgman of Understanding Government that President Obama at least deserves credit for making a case that puts facts and sensible policy above emotion and identity politics.
Update 17:00 CDT: As I suspected, compromise on public option is pointless, since it won't win over Republicans anyway.