Published in The New York Times: Room for Debate, August 11, 2009
The White House is recognizing reality as its health reform agenda faces serious trouble and is backing away from its insistence on a public plan.
The public plan option has been a lightning rod for opposition to health reform because many people believe it is a track to a single-payer, government-run system.
Legislation has passed four out of five key committees in Congress that would establish this new government-run health insurance program — as well as impose mandates on employers and individuals to get and pay for health coverage, drastically expand Medicaid and impose strict new federal regulation of the health insurance market.
People turning out in town hall meetings around the country are not Astroturf groups, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asserts, but largely American citizens who are genuinely concerned about the president’s proposals for sweeping reforms that will have an impact on one-sixth of our economy.
What the president miscalculated in putting health reform at the top of his change agenda is that the thing people cherish most about health care is security. Change scares them, as politicians across the land are suddenly seeing.
The president surely will sign anything that Congress sends him. And he wants to sign a bill this year.
People want to be heard now. They are fearful of this change agenda. The White House must remove the public plan option as the centerpiece of its reform in order to calm the growing anxiety and begin to have a more reasoned debate over meaningful health reform. It may be too late.