Health Care Public Option: One Down, Three to Go

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Andrea King Collier is a blogger for The Root.

Yesterday the Senate Finance Committee said no to a version of the public option portion of health care reform. News headlines declared the vote a surprise KO punch to the public option. Dig a little deeper and find this vote was only a surprise to those outside of the Beltway.


“We always knew this particular bill was going to be rejected,” says Maya Rockeymoore, President and CEO Global Policy Solutions, a D.C. based policy firm that has been tracking health care reform. “This was just one of four versions of a health care reform bill and there are three other ones that have a public option attached to them.” Rockeymoore says that focusing on this one proposal does a disservice to the legislators who have worked hard to present other options.

Is writing the obit for the public option so early in the game a version of the old bait and switch? It’s like saying, “the party is over, everybody go home.” Except it isn’t a party, and it isn’t over.

“One Committee’s action does not determine the fate of health reform legislation,” says Gina Wood, deputy director of the Health Policy Institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.  “Let's not forget, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) passed the America's Choices Act of 2009 that includes a public option,” Wood says.

In Kai Wright’s story for The Root, “10 Reasons African Americans Should March on Washington About Health Care,” he calls for a certain amount of outrage at the health disparities that affect blacks, many of which are caused by a lack of health insurance coverage:

1. Uninsured. Forty percent of black Americans reported being uninsured for some portion of 2007-2008, compared to 1 in 4 whites. And it’s not just about income, nearly a quarter of blacks making more than $84,000 a year lacked coverage at some point, compared to 16 percent of whites in that income bracket.

2. Early death. If black America were its own country, it would rank 105th in the world for life expectancy, behind places like Algeria, the Dominican Republic and Sri Lanka. We’re barely in the developing world.

3. Infant mortality. Black infants are 2.5 times more likely to die than white newborns. Again, if black America were its own country, we’d rank 88th in infant mortality rates. (Hat tip to my Black AIDS Institute colleagues for the global comparisons.

Conservative pundits say that the American public is against any form of a public option. I guess it depends on what segment of the American public you ask. A recent New York Times/CBS poll says that 65 percent of Americans support a public option. Don't believe it? Talk to the millions of people, especially people of color who are uninsured or under insured, on the need for a public option. Or check in with the Americans who have either been cancelled or will be cancelled from their coverage because they have a pre-existing condition. Or the millions of people who have lost a job and lost their coverage five minutes later.

While Rockeymoore and Wood feel that legislation including a public option will pass both the House and the Senate, they agree that this is not the time to let up. The issue of a public option is not only a civil right but it is a core of human rights. “This is not a compromise issue, when individuals and families are facing life and death circumstances,” says Rockeymoore. “We need bipartisan leadership, we need more leaders in the Senate that care about equity and fairness and who will stand up and fight for what is best for all Americans - this is a moral imperative.”



is a journalist who writes about health, health policy and food justice. She is a Food and Society Policy Fellow.