Snowe and the Public Option
As the debate over health care reform becomes more heated and as policy makers and the public focus even more closely on the role of a government-run public health insurance plan, many across the country are attempting to unravel the nuanced view on the policy held by Olympia Snowe, Maine’s senior senator.
The Portland Daily Sun recently published one of the best looks at the attitude of our senior senator towards a public option that I've seen in any of Maine's media, and describes a perspective that may be unique among Snowe’s congressional colleagues.
Snowe says she fears that the efficiencies of a government plan will drive down private health insurance company profits and put them out of business, and should therefore only be created as a last resort if the for-profit insurance market fails to provide adequate competition and affordable coverage.
Interestingly, this view runs counter to the stated fears of some on the right that health care reform will create a giant, untenable government boondoggle. Snowe, instead, thinks that a public option will work too well.
The arguments from the left against Snowe's “trigger” model generally go like this:
1. The extent of market consolidation and the price of health insurance premiums in Maine (and in most other states) are already bad enough to meet any benchmarks that would "trigger" the introduction of a public option, so why not put it in place now?
2. A public plan delayed is a plan denied. Insurance companies will fight the introduction of any future public plan option, even if things have gotten worse or only marginally improved. Without the public as motivated and engaged as it currently is, they’ll likely be able to use their lobbying influence in Washington to quickly and silently kill the public option.
3. The health of Americans should come before the profitability of insurance companies.
While Snowe’s model may appeal to some conservatives who oppose a public option, there’s still plenty of opposition from the right as well. For some, even the hint of a public option is an unconscionable intrusion into the free market. For others, it’s political. If congressional Republicans can prevent any health care reform from passing, even though Democrats are in the majority, they will have tarnished a popular new president and improved their chances in the mid-term elections.
In this environment, it’s hard to see how finding a middle ground is possible. Even if Snowe and the other five senators who are attempting to negotiate a health care compromise are able to reach an agreement along the lines of what Snowe suggests, support on the right may still be very difficult to find and the plan could even lose the backing of some Democrats who insist on a strong public option.
For now, Snowe still seems to think she can get her trigger. If that possibility becomes politically untenable, however, the big question is which of the remaining options she will choose. The future of health care in our country may depend upon which way she leans.