Obama: Public Option is Non-Negotiable

by jhwygirl


Obama is live in a White House press conference. This isn’t a one-subject press conference, he’s taking questions. I missed the first few minutes (maybe 4?), but he has quite clearly said that a “public option is non-negotiable.” He’s taken other questions concerning Iran, but the declaration on a public option is centerpiece.

I’ll get the statements once this is done….

OK – I picked it up with him answering a question. Somewhere there will be a full transcript of his 50 minute press conference Q&A with the press corps…but for now, here is what I got:

Obama: “….in the process of dealing with a cost issue, I think it is a wise policy and also the right thing to do to start providing coverage for people who don’t have health insurance or are under-insured. Are paying a lot of money for high deductibles – I get letters two, three times a day that I read – of families who don’t have health insurance; who are going bankrupt; are on the brink of losing their own insurance; have deductibles that are so high that even with insurance they end up with 50 or even $100,000 in debt, are at risk of losing their homes – and that has to be part of reform. Making sure that, even if you have health insurance now, you are not worried that when you lose your job, or your employer decides to change policies that somehow you are going to be out of luck.
“I think about the woman who was in Wisconsin that I was with, who introduced me up in Green Bay: 36 years old, double mastectomy – breast cancer has now moved to her bones, and she’s got two little kids – a husband with a job. They had health insurance but they’re still $50,000 in debt. And she’s thinking my main legacy, if I don’t survive this thing is gonna be leaving a $100,000 worth of debt. So those are the things I’m prioritizing.
“Now – the public plan, I think, is an important tool to discipline insurance companies. What we’ve said is: Under our proposal, let’s have a system the same way that federal employees do, same way that members of congress do – where we call it an exchange – you can call it a marketplace – where essentially you’ve got a whole lot of different plans. If you like your plan and you like your doctor, you won’t have to do a thing. You keep your plan You keep your doctor. If your employer’s providing you good health care insurance, terrific. We’re not going to mess with it. But – if you are a small business person – if the insurance that is being offered is something you can’t afford? If you want to shop for a better price? Then you can go to this exchange, this marketplace, and you can look: Ok, this is how much this plan cost, this is how much that plan costs. This is what the coverage is like. This is what fits for my family. As one of those options, for us to be able to say ‘Here’s a public option that’s not profit-driven; that can keep down administrative costs..and that provides you with good quality care for a reasonable price as one of the options for you to chose,’ I think that makes sense.

(Unknown press corp): Won’t that drive insurance out of business?

Obama: Why would it drive insurance out of business? If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care – if they tell us that they’re offering a good deal? Then why is that the government – which they say can’t run anything – suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That’s not logical.
Now – I think there’s going to be some healthy debates. In congress. About the shape that this takes. I think that there can be some legitimate concerns on the part of private insurers that if any public plan is simply being subsidized by taxpayer’s endlessly – that over time they can’t compete with the government just putting money. So there are going to be, I think, some legitimate debates to be had about how this private (sic) plan takes shape…but just conceptually the notion that all these insurance companies that say they’re giving consumers the best possible deal; that they can’t compete against a public plan as one option with consumers making the decision what is the best deal..? That defies logic. Which is why I think you see, in the polling data, overwhelming support for the public plan.

(offscreen press corp): Is that non-negotiable?

Obama: calls on “Chip” who asks a question on Iran…

(continues on to health care eventually…)

Obama calls on Jake Tabur (and that spelling could be way off..)

Jake: Thank you Mr. President. Before I ask my question, I wonder if you could answer David’s? Is the public plan non-negotiable?

Obama: Well, that’s your question? (in a manner that suggests that’s going to be only question. He smiles and nods affirmatively. There is laughter.) – Are you the ombudsman for the White House Press Corp? (still more laughter, and even some jeers. Jake holds his ground.) Is that your question?

Jake: Well, I have a two part question (draws more laughter.) Well, while it might be non-negotiable..and while I appreciate, sir, your Spock-like language about the logic of the health care plan, the public plan…it does seem logical to a lot of people that if the government is offering a cheaper health care plan, then lots of employers will want to have their employees covered by that cheaper plan. Which will not have to be for-profit unlike other plans..that may possibly benefit from some government subsidies, who knows And then their employees would be signed up for this public plan which would violate what you are promising the American people that they will not have to change out their plans if they like the plan that they have. So..(and the journalist kinda stops there.)

Obama: Ok. You’re pitchin’ – I’m catching. (journalist nods) OK, I got the question. First of all (deadpan) that reference to Spock, was that a crack on my ears? (laughter) Allright. I just wanted to make sure.

Jake: Would never make fun of you, sir. (laughter)

Obama: Ok. I just wanted to make sure. (laughter) In answer to David’s question, which you co-opted: We are still early in this process. So we have not drawn lines in the sand other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people that don’t have health insurance or are under insured. Those are the broad parameters that we’ve discussed. There are a whole host of other issues where ultimately I may have a strong opinion and I will express those to members of congress as this is shaping up. It’s too early to say that. Right now I will say that our position as a public plan makes sense. Let me go to the broader question that you made about the public option. As I said at , I think that there is a legitimate concern if the public plan was simply eating off the taxpayer troth. That it would be hard for private insurers to compete. If, on the other hand, the public plan is structured in such a way where they’ve got to collect premiums and they’ve got to provide good services, then, if when the insurance companies are saying is true – that they’re doing their best to serve their customers – that they’re in the business of keeping people well and giving them security when they get sick, they should be able to compete.
Now – if it turns out that the public plan, for example, is able to reduce administrative costs significantly, then, you know what? I’d like the insurance companies to take note and say ‘Hey. If the public plan can do that, why can’t we?’ And that’s good for everyone in the system. And I don’t think there should be any objection to that. Now, BTW, I should point out that part of the reform that we’ve suggested is that if you want to be a private insurer as part of the exchange as part of this marketplace – this menu of options that people can choose from, we’re going to have some different rules for all insurance companies. One of them being that you can’t preclude people from getting health insurance because of a pre-existing condition. You can’t cherry pick and just take the healthiest people. So there are going to be some ground rules that are going to apply to all insurance companies because I think the American people understand that too often insurance companies have been spending time thinking about how to take premiums and then how to avoid providing people coverage then they have been thinking about how can we be sure insurance is there – health care is there – when families need it. I confident….I take it that those advocates of the free market to heart, when they say that the free market is innovative and is going to compete on service and is going to compete on their ability to deliver good care to families…and if that’s the case, then this just becomes one more option. If that’s not the case, then I think that that is something that the American people should know.

Jake: I’m sorry – but what about keeping your promise to the American people that they won’t have to change plans even if employers …..

Obama: Wait a minute. When I say ‘If you have your plan and you like it and your doctor has a plan or you have a doctor and you like your doctor that you don’t have to change plans,’ what I’m saying is the government is not going to make you change your plans for health reform. Now, are there going to be employers, right now, assuming we don’t do anything, let’s say that we take the advice of some folks who are out there that say that this is not the time to do health care – ‘we can’t afford it. It’s too complicated. Let’s take our time…etc.’, so let’s assume that nothing happens. I can guarantee you that there is the possibility for a whole lot to happen to Americans out there – that they’re not going to end up having the same health care that they have. Because what’s going to happen is that costs keep on going up. Employers are going to start making decisions that we’ve got to raise premiums on our employees. In some cases we can’t provide health insurance at all. So there are going to be a whole set of changes out there. That’s exactly why health care is so important.

(he calls on Margaret, from McClatchy..who goes on to Iran)

Full transcript, courtesy of CQ Politics, via NYTimes.


  1. Mayor of Mayhem

    Jhwygirl, I think Obama will get it done. It won’t be pretty and it won’t be clean and tidy, but at the end of the day our country will have a better way of dealing with uninsured and underinsured families than it does today.
    This problem has been around an awful long time with absolutely nothing done by our government to deal with the rising costs. Obama has been in office a few months, give him a chance

    • You view this as anti-Obama?

      Or is it because you are a single-payer-only advocate? That makes this post anti-Obama in your eyes?

      I’m really quite open to watching the process play out, albeiit with its major faux paus, such as the complete rejection by Obama, Baucus, Pelosi, Reid and other Democrats, of single-payer. I’m willing, I guess, to let the experts duke it out so that I can sit back and analyze what rises up north of the line.

      I do wish, though, that the rest of America would get up off its ass (‘xcuse the language)…like Montanan’s have been doing through public meetings with Baucus and the Senate Finance committee; through letters and petitions and letters to the editors and all kinds of stuff. I know two people (lil’ old me) in D.C. right now lobbying for health care. There is tremendous work being done on the ground here. I don’t see that elsewhere. I don’t see it in other newspapers from around America – I don’t see it in other blogs around America. Not to any degree like I see it here in Montana.

      I realize you are unable to put this in the context of us here in Montana, and there is certainly a large part of Baucus that is front and center here more so than it is elsewhere explicitly by the nature of Baucus being our Senator, but overall, the failure of a whole bunch of people to recognize Obama’s role (or lack thereof up to this point) in health reform amazes me.

      Republican or Democrat, I’m going to call it as I see it.

      • we’ve gone about as far as we can go to get max’s attention….time to climb into barry’s ear and keep up the pressure…i also think that obama is very much on our side regarding health care….and i think he is getting a little impatient with the republicans so bipartisanship may be just a smokescreen for now…

        • I’ve little doubt Obama is on our side…but when you say “on our side” do you mean single-payer, problembear? Because you are clearly a single-payer only advocate.

          Do you think Obama is really working towards single-payer? Or are you OK with public option?

          • only??? i am not an “only” about anything j-girl. i push for much more than i am willing to settle for all the time. any wildlife biologist will tell you that bears are extremely opportunistic and omnivores to boot.

            i will take whatever i can get for health care- and as much as i can get for the folks who suffer from lack of decent health care.

            i push the envelope on a lot of things j-girl…it’s my nature.

          • jhwygirl

            Well I ask, pb, because of your clear criticism of anyone who embraced public option – both here and elsewhere – and because I’ve yet to see you write about anything but single-payer.

            So you are on board with a public option? Or is anything better than nothing? ‘Cause I’m going nuclear if there’s not even a public option.

        • my criticism was aimed toward people who appeared to be lowering expectations in tandem with senator baucus…single payer is probably not swallowable whole by this nation yet, although it may well be the direction we are headed …i didn’t understand however why so many were willing to cede territory to the republicans in order to achieve some type of unachievable accord with a bunch of charlatans and mountebancs.

          but jay says it much better than i can here. it is brilliant. http://leftinthewest.com/diary/3020/#14025

  2. Mayor of Mayhem

    The real problem might be getting the dems on board. The health insurance industry spreads alot of dough around.

  3. kas

    j-girl, next time your in D.C. let us know…it is only a short jaunt for us!

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