Obama Calls For Public Option, Which He Once Hedged Against

Obama made the push to renew focus on a public option in Miami today.

ByBY ALI ROGIN
October 20, 2016, 4:34 PM
PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaks about the Affordable Care Act, on Oct. 20, 2016, at Miami Dade College in Miami. The president is promoting his health overhaul by saying that never in U.S. history has the uninsured rate been lower than it is today.
President Barack Obama speaks about the Affordable Care Act, on Oct. 20, 2016, at Miami Dade College in Miami. The president is promoting his health overhaul by saying that never in U.S. history has the uninsured rate been lower than it is today.
Lynne Sladky/AP Photo

— -- President Barack Obama pushed today to renew focus on a so-called “public option” in the insurance marketplace -- a popular item among progressives, but one Obama publicly hedged against during negotiations leading to the passage of his signature health care law.

In a speech in Miami, Obama said the public option would “give folks more options in those places where there’s just not enough insurers to compete.”

But the president did not mention how during the 2009 negotiations over what’s now known as Obamacare the White House used the public option as a bargaining chip -- dropping it as a non-negotiable in order to get moderate Democrats, like Nebraska’s then-Sen. Ben Nelson, to vote in favor of the law.

“The public option, whether we have it or we don’t have it, is not the entirety of health care reform,” Obama said in August 2009 during a town hall-style meeting in Colorado, according to The New York Times. “This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it.”

Now, the president is citing the public option as one of three essential solutions to perfecting the law, along with more states expanding Medicaid and an expansion of tax credits for middle-class Obamacare enrollees.

He said that Republicans must “work with the next president to smooth out the kinks,” joking that they can even change the name if they want.

“They can even change the name of the law to Reagan-care. Or they can call it Paul Ryan-care. I don't care about credit. I just want it to work,” he said.

The same article that quoted Obama in Colorado noted that former Sen. Kent Conrad, then representing North Dakota, went on cable TV to ring the death knell for the public option.

“The fact of the matter is, there are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option,” Conrad said. “There never have been. So to continue to chase that rabbit, I think, is just a wasted effort.”

A White House spokesperson sent this statement in response: "First, today is not the first time the President has called for a public plan on the Marketplace in parts of the country still lacking in competition -- he did so back in July. Second, he supported the public option in the debate around ACA passage. He included this in his article in the Journal of the American Medical Association in July where he assessed the ACA and proposed ways to strengthen it, including a public option in parts of the country."

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