Essential Oils
While the Obama Administration is taking a great deal of heat from progressives for the apparent softening of its commitment to a public option for health care coverage, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has come in for special criticism over her suggestion Sunday that a public plan is not essential to the push for comprehensive health care reform. The implication is that the Obama Administration is now mainly interested in reforming the private insurance market, an area where it is more likely to achieve legislative success by the end of the year.
Sebelius was wall-to-wall on the Sunday morning shows, so I actually caught her several times, including the interview in question with CNN’s John King. At the time, it sure seemed to me like she was backing away from any commitment to a public option, so I was surprised to subsequently read that Sebelius has blamed the media for causing the furor on the left by highlighting a misinterpretation of her comments.
But now I have gone back and watched a clip of the CNN interview over and over, and I am a bit uncertain, which itself is problematic for the president from a political communications perspective. Sebelius seems to be saying that either a single-payer government program or a consumer-owned, nonprofit cooperative could provide the competition with private insurers necessary to lower health care costs.
So for Sebelius, choosing between the two possibilities is not the essential question, as long as there is some sort of alternative to private insurance in the final bill. This would be in keeping with the Obama Administration’s position in recent months, hence the secretary’s claim that nothing has changed. Sebelius’ comments near the end of the clip seem to reinforce this interpretation, but it is by no means clear.

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