Are Dems Losing the Battle Over Public Option?

Bipartisan health care reform could mean losing key Democrat-backed provisions.

ByABC News
August 16, 2009, 6:31 PM

Aug. 16, 2009— -- Whether the anger expressed at town halls is real, manufactured or, as Sen. Arlen Specter said today on ABC's "This Week," "not really representative of America," it is clear that many Americans are apprehensive about what a health care overhaul means for them.

This Sunday, Team Obama attempted to allay Americans' fears, but also backed away from whether a final health care reform bill had to include a "public option", which has become a sticking point in bipartisan cooperation over health reform.

President Obama has stressed the need for a public option, envisioned as a government-run health insurance system that would provide affordable health insurance to almost 50 million uninsured Americans, and cause private insurers to lower their costs in order to compete. Critics say it would lead to a government takeover of health care, undercut the private insurance market, and lead to government rationing of health care.

Today, rhetoric in favor of a public option gave way to the importance of "choice" and "competition."

"That is not the essential element," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on CNN's "State of the Union" when asked about a public option. "I think what's important is choice and competition. And I'm convinced at the end of the day the plan will have both of those."

Similarly, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs deflected when asked whether a public option was a "deal-breaker" for the president.

"What the president has always talked about is that we inject some choice and competition into the private insurance market," he said on CBS's "Face the Nation".

"The president has thus far sided with the notion that can best be done through a public option," Gibbs said, but added, "The bottom line again is, do individuals looking for health insurance in the private market have choice and competition? If we have that, the president will be satisfied."

Both Gibbs and Sebelius left the door open for an alternative to a public option.

"We don't know exactly what the Senate Finance Committee is likely to come up with. They've been more focused on a co-op, not-for-profit co-op as a competitor as opposed to a straight government-run program," Sebelius said.