The “public option”and the wheelbarrow parable
(Part 1 of 3)
By Kip Sullivan, JD
On July 8, 2008, Health Care for America (HCAN) announced its existence. The press release HCAN published that day described HCAN’s “vision” for health care reform in these words:
Health Care for America Now offers a bold new vision for health care reform: Americans can keep the private insurance they have, join a new private insurance plan, or choose a public health insurance plan.
It is clear today that HCAN’s position is quite different from the “vision” HCAN announced in July 2008. If HCAN had announced on July 8, 2008 the position it promoted during 2009, its announcement would have sounded like this:
HCAN offers a bold new vision: Ten percent of nonelderly Americans will be given the opportunity to enroll in a public health insurance plan, the other 90 percent will be forced to buy health insurance from the insurance industry, and the taxpayer will be asked to fork over half-a-trillion dollars per decade to the insurance industry. HCAN will not go to the mat for the tiny public program. If necessary, HCAN will jettison the little public program and throw their full support behind an insurance industry bailout. It is more important to HCAN that the insurance industry get millions of new customers and its half-trillion from the taxpayer than it is to enact a tiny “option.”
But despite the passage of almost two years, the leadership of HCAN and the “option” campaign has yet to announce to the public that the “option” is dispensable and that HCAN’s highest priority is an insurance industry bailout: tens of millions of compulsory customers plus massive tax-financed subsidies for the industry. To the contrary, the “option” campaign’s leadership continues to employ the tactics it has used from the beginning of the campaign, namely, to generate a great public fuss over the tiny “option” while simultaneously expressing support for bailout legislation that contains an ineffective “option” or no “option” at all.
This behavior reminds me of a parable about a company employee who stole wheelbarrows from the company right under the nose of the company’s security guard. He would leave work every night pushing a wheelbarrow filled with straw. The guard at the factory gate was fooled into thinking the straw hid something and focused all his attention on the straw and never thought to ask about the wheelbarrow. He would carefully lift the straw and look for stolen goods, and, finding none, would wave the employee on.
If we substitute a health insurance industry bailout for the wheelbarrow, and the “option” for the straw, the parable illustrates the strategy of the “option” campaign. By creating a great ruckus over the “option” but all the while supporting bailout legislation (with or without an “option”), the “option” campaign has fooled its followers and the public into thinking its highest priority is the “option” when in fact its highest priority is a bailout.
In this three-part series, I summarize the evidence for this conclusion – that the “option” campaign cares more about the bailout than the “option.” In Part 2 I present the evidence indicating the “option” campaign never adopted criteria that would guarantee the “option” would be large and that it did little or nothing to educate Congress about such criteria. The result of the “option” campaign’s failure to promote such criteria was predictable: Democrats in Congress adopted a very tiny, ineffective “option.” Part 2 also presents evidence indicating “option” proponents within Congress adopted very similar tactics.
Part 3 summarizes the evidence indicating that the “option” campaign’s leaders never made the tiny “option” a precondition for their support of the Democrats’ health care “reform” bills and, to make matters worse, when Democrats in the Senate passed a bill with no “option” in it, the “option” campaign’s leaders continued to support the Senate bill. Part 3 also presents evidence indicating “option” proponents within Congress were almost as wishy-washy about the “option” as the leadership of the “option” campaign was.
Kip Sullivan is a member of the steering committee of the Minnesota chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program.