PI Original Adam Doster Monday August 17th, 2009, 11:27am

Health Care Roundup: Public Plan Troubles, Biggert Whacked by Sun-Times

The August recess is in full swing. Here's the latest health care news:

More Hedging On The Public Option

The big news nationally is that the White House hinted again yesterday
at a willingness to drop a public insurance option from the health care
reform ...

The August recess is in full swing. Here's the latest health care news:

More Hedging On The Public Option

The big news nationally is that the White House hinted again yesterday at a willingness to drop a public insurance option from the health care reform packages if it means ultimately passing a bill. While progressives activists have pushed hard for a robust government-run program to compete with private insurers,  Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told CNN that a public option was “not the essential element” for reform. This isn't the first time the Obama administration has hedged on this point, but at this stage in the negotiations, it should send a strong signal to moderate and liberal Democrats where the president currently stands.

In its place, Senate Democrats will likely turn to non-profit cooperatives, an alternative already favored by the Gang of Six senators on the Finance Committee. Ezra Klein's June interview with Sen. Kent Conrad is a good place to get caught up on the specifics. The New York Times' briefly explains the idea here:

The co-op, modeled after rural electric and agricultural cooperatives in Mr. Conrad’s home state, would offer insurance through a nonprofit, nongovernmental consumer entity run by its members. Mr. Axelrod said one downside of a co-op, from Mr. Obama’s point of view, was that it might be unable to “scale up in such a way that would create a robust” competitor to private insurers.

Will that concession go far enough to win the support of moderate Democrats who remain on the fence? None of Illinois' still undecided lawmakers -- including Reps. Debbie Halvorson, Bill Foster, and Melissa Bean -- have explicitly identified the public option as the major problem with the bills working through Congress. However, if they felt the inclusion of a government-run plan left them vulnerable to overblown conservative attacks about expanding government, co-ops could give them some leeway while preserving some choice on the private market. Of course, the full House would still face a vote on a bill that includes the public option; it would likely be gutted in the Senate version, where moderate votes are really needed, and then negotiations would begin over specifics in conference committee. And the entire package could crumble if progressives in the House revolt, like Rep. Jan Schakowsky and her colleagues vowed to do last month. Stay tuned.

Sun-Times Whacks Biggert Over Scare Tactics

Last week, Rep. Judy Biggert deliberately distributed literature at a town hall falsely claiming that the health care bills working through Congress would lead to end-of-life euthanasia. Admitting that the statement was "a little inflammatory," she told the Daily Herald that "I probably wrote it when I was mad." Today, the Sun-Times editorial board nails Biggert and other conservatives for promoting these ridiculous lies:

Democratic health-care reform will require "end-of-life counseling for seniors that might encourage them to give up when facing serious illness," read a flier passed out by U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert of Hinsdale. Now, [Iowa Sen. Chuck] Grassley and other conservative Republican politicians want to make sure seniors are denied what is in fact a reasonable and desirable benefit. They have removed coverage for end-of-life counseling from the Senate's version of the health reform bill.

Shame on all of them. [...]

When mainstream, usually respected politicians pick up the lie, repeat it and lend it their credibility, they do a massive disservice to the very people they claim they are helping -- senior citizens who have an understandable anxiety about any potential changes to their health-care benefits.

During WTTW's Chicago Tonight week in review show on Friday, the first 10 minutes were devoted to health care. The segment focused in large part on what Obama can do to combat the misinformation about his administration's health care proposals. Conspicuously absent from the debate was any mention of the media's role in fact-checking politicians who play fast and lose with the facts. Watch it here:

While the national media has put out a few decent pieces on this front as of late, they were slow to respond and are still fumbling with the details. Locally, the media isn't doing much better. As a result, it's going to be tough for the truth to catch up with the lies.

Edit Boards Call For More Town Hall Meetings

Sen. Dick Durbin is taking some shots from editorial boards in the state for his decision not to hold a town hall meeting on health care reform. From the Daily Herald:

But it also seems like it's such a transcendent issue for all of us that our representatives in Washington ought to make an attempt to listen to their constituents. It also seems to us that any public hearing could be controlled easily enough by rules of decorum that are stated in advance and then enforced. Local government does this all the time.

Sen. Durbin is, presumably, the second most powerful person in the U.S. Senate.

If that's the case, what is he afraid of?

The State Journal-Register agrees, arguing that Durbin and fellow congressmen Rep. John Shimkus "should reconsider and face their constituents." But the paper also notes that town hall participants need to change their temperament if they want lawmakers to take their concerns seriously:

This is one of the most complex and important issues to face the American people in decades. This page doesn’t have an opinion today on which approach will work best. We do know the American people need to rationally talk with their representatives and senators, continue to educate themselves and be willing to listen when answers are provided.

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