September 13, 2009

David Gregory asks Dick Durbin if the public option is "buried and gone" and Durbin reiterates that the most important thing is controlling costs and assuring competition. Howard Dean says he agrees with Senator Durbin and they'd drop the public option in a heartbeat if we got some meaningful regulation of the insurance industry. Of course the ones taking all of their money aren't going to want to do either.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about a key policy provision here, what's gotten so much--taken up so much oxygen in the room in this debate, and that is the public option, the idea of a government plan in these exchanges that would compete with private insurance plan. The president stood behind the idea of competition, keeping the insurance companies honest. But this is what he said about the public plan Wednesday night.

(Videotape, Wednesday)

PRES. OBAMA: The public option is only a means to that end, and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Senator, that was an important statement. Is the public option now buried and gone?

SEN. DURBIN: No, it's not. I support the public option, but I also think the president stated it correctly. What we're looking for is real competition. Understand, the health insurance companies hate this public option, as Dale Bumpers used to say, like the devil hates holy water, Because it means that there's going to be a force in place there that is going to put in competition and keep costs under control. The so-called Lewin Group that's been quoted by many senators on the floor about how this is going to get out of control happens to be an organization that is owned by the United Healthcare Group, a health insurance company. So they've been discredited. The fact is that we understand that putting in a public option means that people will have a choice in markets where there are only a handful of private health insurance companies and people have nowhere to turn...

MR. GREGORY: But, Senator, it can't pass the Senate, can it?

SEN. DURBIN: ...they have to have an affordable choice.

MR. GREGORY: It can't pass the Senate.

SEN. DURBIN: Well, it--I wouldn't go that far. I would say at this point that the House of Representatives includes a clear public option. I don't know what the Senate bill will look like coming out of the Finance and HELP Committee. But we've got to have--at least be true to the principle the president said: Make sure there's competition for these private health insurance companies. These companies do not want the competition, but if we don't have it the prices will not come down.

MR. GREGORY: All right. But, Dr. Dean...

DR. DEAN: Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: ...White House officials I've spoken to have been very clear, saying that the left in the Democratic Party has overshot the runway here, overstating the importance of a public option. Did the president put it away?

DR. DEAN: I don't think so at all. I'm, I'm with Dick on this. Look, the president said yesterday that if you can find another way around it to control the insurance companies' costs, that would be fine. There's another way. There's two countries in Europe that have universal health care without--and it's entirely run by insurance companies. But they treat the insurance companies like regulated utilities. If the insurance companies would prefer to be treated like regulated utilities, we'd drop the public option in a heartbeat.

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