Say hello to "Medicare Part E" -- as in, "Medicare for Everyone."
House Democrats are looking at re-branding the public health insurance option as Medicare, an established government healthcare program that is better known than the public option.
The strategy could benefit Democrats struggling to bridge the gap between liberals in their party, who want the public option, and centrists, who are worried it would drive private insurers out of business.
While much of the public is foggy on what a public option actually is, people understand Medicare. It also would place the new public option within the rubric of a familiar system rather than something new and unknown.
Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) spoke out last week in favor of re-branding the public option as Medicare, startling many because he has loudly proclaimed his opposition to a public option.
Some Democrats say there's no need to rename a legislative concept that's gained steadily in support since being lambasted as a "government takeover" in August. A Washington Post-ABC poll published Tuesday showed 57 percent of the public supports the idea -- up five points since August -- while 40 percent opposes it.
"It keeps polling better and better as a public health insurance option," said a senior Democratic aide. "I don't think it's changing." Polling experts, however, have documented that many people don't know what a public option is, and that small changes in language can cause poll results to vary widely. An August poll by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates showed that only 37 percent of those polled correctly identified the public option from a list of three choices.
In a closed-door caucus meeting last week, Ross, one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, offered support for expanding Medicare, saying it would prevent the need to create a new bureaucracy. He said he wasn't advocating a plan, however, and added that the new coverage would have to have much higher reimbursements for physicians and hospitals. He also said it would need to compete with private insurers.
In an odd reversal, that idea was shot down as too liberal by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), himself a liberal champion. Waxman said expanding Medicare would essentially move toward a fully government-run single-payer system, while the public option was designed to spur competition.
Ross' change in position indicates to me that earlier he just didn't know what the hell he was talking about, but he's welcome to join us. Overall the House has been doing an excellent job of pushing for a Public Option (it's the nitwits in the Senate we have to worry about), but the branding "Medicare for Everyone" is long overdue.