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Obama Touts Public Plan, Rejects Single Payer

In his most forceful comments on health care reform since he arrived at the White House, President Obama today made his case for including a government-backed insurance plan as part of the Democrats’ health reform strategy this year. However, appearing in Chicago before members of the American Medical Association, the nation’s largest doctors’ group, the president also rejected the idea of adopting a single-payer system, arguing that, in effect, it’s un-American.

From his prepared remarks:

If you don’t like your health coverage or don’t have any insurance, you will have a chance to take part in what we’re calling a Health Insurance Exchange. This Exchange will allow you to one-stop shop for a health care plan, compare benefits and prices, and choose a plan that’s best for you and your family — just as federal employees can do, from a postal worker to a member of Congress.

You will have your choice of a number of plans that offer a few different packages, but every plan would offer an affordable, basic package. And one of these options needs to be a public option that will give people a broader range of choices and inject competition into the health care market so that force waste out of the system and keep the insurance companies honest.

Republicans have been adamantly opposed to the public option, maintaining that it would encroach on the private insurance market, eventually driving everyone else out of business — a scenario Obama denied outright:

What are not legitimate concerns are those being put forward claiming a public option is somehow a Trojan horse for a single-payer system. I’ll be honest. There are countries where a single-payer system may be working. But I believe — and I’ve even taken some flak from members of my own party for this belief — that it is important for us to build on our traditions here in the United States. So, when you hear the naysayers claim that I’m trying to bring about government-run health care, know this — they are not telling the truth.

The choice of venues was significant. The AMA will be a major player in this year’s health reform debate, and already the group has come out against the public option (only to scale back that opposition a few days later, saying it would be “willing to consider” some version of the public plan, so long as it doesn’t mandate physician participation).

Meanwhile, supporters of the single-payer model are wondering why lawmakers insist on clinging to the for-profit, private-insurance model that’s left more than 45 million Americans without health coverage.

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