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Obama Rebuts Criticism of Public Insurance Option

President Barack Obama on Thursday launched a vigorous counterattack against opponents of his health care proposals, denying repeatedly that he wants to “socialize” medicine or that a government insurance option would lead to a government-run monopoly.

Obama appeared at a town hall-style event in Green Bay, Wis., where he offered some of the most detailed reasoning yet behind his approach to overhauling the health system.

The president is under attack for his embrace last week of a public option that Senate Democrats plan to include in health reform legislation scheduled to move through committee this month. Some opponents say the public option will lead to socialism in the health sector.

“When you hear people say ‘socialized medicine,’ I don’t know anybody in Washington who’s proposing it,” Obama said, defining the term as the government completely running the system, as he said occurs in Great Britain.

Obama also said he does not want a single-payer system in which the government would be the sole insurer, saying this is not practical politically and would be disruptive because so many people already get their insurance through employers who use private insurance.

But he did note that “there are some appealing things to a single-payer plan,” adding that “there are some countries where that’s worked very well.”

But he said he wants a public option that would establish the government as an alternative insurer to private plans and that can be used by those who cannot afford private insurance. He denied this would “lead to government running your health system,” calling such charges “the usual politics” found in Washington.

“I don’t know how clearly I can say this,” Obama declared, noting his contention that people will be able to keep their private plans.

“I don’t know where people get this idea that I want to run stuff or that I want government to run stuff,” he said, asserting as he has before that he has enough on his plate without taking on new responsibilities.

Republicans say a government takeover of the health system is exactly what Obama will end up supporting.

“President Obama is in Wisconsin today pushing for rushed passage of a bill that’s going to make health care more expensive for America’s middle class,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said.

“The Democrats’ emerging bill raises taxes,” Boehner said. “It rations care and puts bureaucrats, instead of doctors and patients, in charge of medical decisions. It amounts to a government takeover of health care, and it would force millions of Americans off their own plans and into a government-sponsored plan.”

Obama denied he was “ideologically” committed to any one approach and insisted he is open to new ideas. At one point, he indicated he would consider something other than a public option for the self-employed and small businesses.

“They don’t have the ability to pool their health insurance risk,” Obama said. “That’s where a public plan potentially comes in, or at least some mechanism to join a big pool.”

Business groups have long advocated “association health plans” to help pool risks for small businesses and others.

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