If you asked me what the definition of a "public option" in health insurance would be, I'd have to stick with the obvious; it'd be "public" as in "government-run or -sponsored" and an "option" as in "you can choose it if you want to." Anything else is not a public option. The news is that the House, under Speaker Pelosi, is working on a "robust" public option that will actually come in cheaper than any Senate bill -- specifically the Senate Finance Committee bill which, let's face it, is eminently improvable.
But with the definition of "public option" so clear and simple, what's with the qualifier "robust?" It seems to me that it either is or it isn't. A "weak" public option is simply not a public option at all. Calling anything that falls outside that definition a "public option" would seem to be a plain lie. Co-ops, which thankfully seem pretty dead as an idea, would be an option you could choose, but they wouldn't be public. Likewise, the "option" part of the definition is out if there aren't insurance exchanges where you can choose a public plan. If, as some are saying, a "public option" should only be available to people who aren't covered by private insurance, then we're not really talking about an "option" here, are we? That'd be what you call your "false advertising."
So, in this case, "robust" and "actual" seem to be synonyms. In a world without weasel words, a positive qualifier wouldn't be necessary. But we don't live in that world. We live in an opposite reality. Honesty isn't valued here, while obfuscation is. In this world that we live in, language matters.
Which makes a possible move by House Democrats a little more important than most people seem to think it is.
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.
It's been pointed out that, since the public option has done well in polling throughout this debate, rebranding it is unnecessary. But in a world that seems to accept a "public option" that's not public or not an option, I'm inclined to disagree.
If you need an example of the damage that weasel words can do if you allow people just a little wiggle room, consider this exchange between Sen. All Franken and Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a flack for the right wing Hudson Institute. Keep in mind, this is Senate testimony:
FRANKEN: I think we disagree on whether health care reform, the health care reform that we’re talking about in Congress now should pass. You said that the way we’re going will increase bankruptcies. I want to ask you, how many medical bankruptcies because of medical crises were there last year in Switzerland?
FURCHTGOTT-ROTT: I don’t have that number in front of me, but I can find out and get back to you.
FRANKEN: I can tell you how many it was. It’s zero. Do you know how many medical bankruptcies there were last year in France?
FURCHTGOTT-ROTT: I don’t have that number, but I can get back to you if I like.
FRANKEN: Yeah, the number is zero. Do you know how many were in Germany?
FURCHTGOTT-ROTT: From the trend of your questions, I’m assuming the number is zero. But I don’t know the precise number and would have to get back to you.
FRANKEN: Well, you’re very good. Very fast. The point is, I think we need to go in that direction, not the opposite direction. Thank you.
People actually believe Furchtgott-Roth's BS and they believe it because she leaves out important information. "That number" could be ten, one hundred, one million, etc. In fact, the word "number" almost never brings to mind zero -- you visualize some vague quantity. She kept going to that exit because she's trained herself not to pin herself down with unfortunate facts. She's not lying (at least, not in any way you can prove), but it'd be a mistake to call that testimony honest. Factual and honest are not the same thing.
If we call a public option "Medicare for Everyone," people are going to get the crazy idea that it ought to be something like Medicare, only for everyone. And that'd make it a lot harder to take some piece of crap compromise and call it a "public option."
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