Despite the quagmire of low public opinion, near riotous town hall meetings, and clogged phone lines and fax machines the Democrats have somewhat blindly jumped into, they may not be quite as stupid as they look or sound. You see, Republicans have been diligently and fervently attacking the "public option" which is the boogey man term right now. Understandably, the "public option" is easy to attack, it reeks of government intervention and honestly if it looks socialist, sounds socialist, it must be socialist (or is that if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it must be a duck... I'm not sure). Yet insideously hidden, even in Senator Baucus's proposal is the "individual mandate". As James Capretta points out on National Review:
It is built on the same flawed foundation as the House bills, starting with a so-called “individual mandate” that would penalize any American who didn’t sign up with government-approved insurance.
The "individual mandate" as it stands and is implemented in the Democrats' proposals, would force, especially without the "public option", individuals to find insurance in an environment that is not friendly to low cost type consumers. Thus, the gamble is, once you force insurance upon people, the public will call for the "public option" to lower and control prices. The "public option" will then in turn do one of two things:
1.) The "public option", backed with huge government subsidies will drive down insurance costs too well, which is what it is intended to do, creating de facto reliance on the "public option", now not being an option at all, as private insurers go belly up because they can't compete in the low price environment.
2.) The "public option", backed with huge government subsidies, goes "postal". Despite its low cost, it is seen by the mass public as an inefficient system, long waits, bad service, and hidden costs drive away consumers, who prefer the more streamlined private insurers who allow access to more medical professionals. In essence the "public option" becomes the U.S. Postal Service and limps along becoming rather irrelevant.
Let it be known though that path #1 is more likely and risking otherwise is a gamble I would never take.
So to the final point. In the debate over health care we must not be satisfied with winning the removal of the "public option". Government control over health care can come in a very public and visible way, the current proposal in the house, or through a rather insidious and dishonest way, the Baucus proposal in the Senate via the "individual mandate". Republicans must be cautious not to focus too much on the "public option" as the absolute evil, or we risk losing the public capital to attack the "individual mandate" as well. Even if the "public option" is defeated there lies a greater battle to explain, unmask, and defeat the "individual mandate" as well.