For GOP, Obama health care plan is still a government takeover, public option or not

Jon Ward Contributor
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Whether or not a public option is part of President Obama’s highly anticipated health care reform proposal to be unveiled Monday, Republicans will still call it a government takeover of the health care system.

Even before the public option was resurrected over the last two weeks as a potential ingredient, the GOP was saying that the legislation passed by the House and Senate was a blueprint for a massive overhaul of health care into a government-run sector.

Republicans continued to use the “government takeover” label even after the public option was long gone, even though Democrats and liberal pundits argued that what had passed out of both chambers had morphed from what was debated for most of the year into strikingly conservative legislation, with many Republican ideas.

In particular, liberals said, the legislation allowed Americans to buy health insurance across state lines, creating more competition, and allowed small businesses and individuals to group themselves together to create more purchasing and negotiating power with insurers. At least one Republican senator agreed with Democrats that the Senate bill allowed purchasing across state lines.

But most Republicans have insisted that not only were these provisions half-measures, the overall architecture of the Democratic legislation was, as a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner said, “building the infrastructure they will ultimately need for a single payer system.”

White House spokeswoman Linda Douglass called this an “absurd” argument, and said those who make it “know they aren’t telling the truth.”

“What we are talking about is health insurance reform that is built upon America’s employer-based, private insurance system,” said Douglass, spokeswoman for the White House office of health reform.

“We are talking about reform that will that will empower consumers and give them the freedom to change jobs, move, start their own business without fear of losing coverage,” Douglass said. She said their plan “will end insurance company abuses … stimulate competition in the private insurance market and give consumers more affordable options … [and] lower costs and reduce the deficit.”

But Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said Obama care is “a very organized concerted attempt to have the federal government effectively take over the health care sector in this country.” Ryan’s staff pointed to a section of the Senate bill that gives the Officer of Personnel Management “authority to negotiate with private health plans and the power to determine what ‘credible’ health care is.”

The legislation itself says that it “strikes the government-plan.” In place of the “government-plan,” the bill says, “OPM shall enter into contracts with health insurers to offer at least two multi-state qualified health plans through the exchange in each State.”

“At least one of the plans must be non profit. At least one plan must not offer coverage for elective abortion services. Enrollees in a OPM multi-State plan shall be treated as a separate risk pool from enrollees in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program. The plans must still be licensed in each state and meet the requirements of state laws, as well as federal requirements,” the bill says.

Republicans argue this is the substitution of one kind of government-run plan for another. Kevin Smith, a Boehner spokesman, called it an “invisible public option.”

A Ryan spokeswoman called it “the architecture for a slow march toward government-run health care through regulatory rule-making.”

But Democrats said that the Republican argument was tenuous at best.

“Sounds like an argument that only the insurance industry could make,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.