Can the Public Option Make a Miracle Recovery?

After hearing for months that the so-called “public option” was dead, it looks like it might yet make a miracle recovery. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid finally seem to be putting pressure on Congressional Democrats to include a public option. The reason is simple: the idea a government-run health-care plan is increasingly popular.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll suggests that a majority of Americans are for the creation of a government-run health-care plan, which would compete with private insurers. According to the poll, 57 percent of Americans now support a so-called “public option,” while only 40 percent oppose it. And an even larger percentage would support a public plan if it were run by the states and available only to people unable to afford private insurance. Crucially, support for a public plan has been growing among independent voters and senior citizens—the two groups whose support is politically essential for any health care plan. Opposition for a public plan comes largely from Republicans.

Much has been made of the fact that—all else being equal—most people would prefer that any health-care plan have bipartisan support. But as Greg Sargent points out, almost all previous polls “have offered respondents a straight choice—do they want partisan bill or a bipartisan one—without explaining that winning over GOP support has actual policy consequences for the final bill that they might not like.” And as this latest poll makes clear a majority would prefer a plan that includes some government-sponsored health insurance even if it has no Republican support to a bipartisan plan without any government-sponsored health insurance.

For all the talk about the evils of socialized medicine, government health care programs actually work quite well. The Veterans Health Administration runs what is in many ways a model health-care program. And Medicare is so popular that some Democrats want to call the government-sponsored portion of their health-care plan “Medicare for Everyone,” especially since polls show that many Americans have only a vague what a public option really is. If Democrats can convince the public that a government-sponsored health care will be a lot like Medicare, we may get one after all.

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