Reporter Says GOP Misleads on Public Option Consequences - But Paul Krugman Agrees with Them

Jackie Calmes tries to calm conservative fears that the "public option" on health care would drive private health insurers out of business. Yet Times liberal columnist Paul Krugman would welcome such an outcome.

Eight and half minutes from the end of the Times' Thursday "Political Points" podcast, reporter Jackie Calmes poo-pood the threat of Obama's proposed "public option" on health care, a government-run health insurance planthat conservatives fear (and many liberals hope) would provide unfair competition to private insurers and eventually drive them out of business:

Calmes: "I do think the attitudes towards the public option have shifted, that there's been, you know, the Republicans did a good job of defining it in a way that it suggested an all-government health plan, when this is just one slice of an insurance exchange and it would only affect roughly, it's estimated, about 10% of Americans, because people with employer-provided insurance aren't even affected by this. There's been a lot of more discussion among Democrats, so that it's, you saw it yesterday on Capitol Hill, that some people who used to be either on the fence or even against public option came out and said they were for it. In part because they've learned, you know, because they've learned exactly what it means and how relatively limited it is, so it's got better chance than it did, you know, maybe a month ago."

Host Sam Roberts: "Jackie, has it become more symbolic than substantive at this point?"

Calmes: "Absolutely, on both sides. The Republicans have turned it into a symbol of big-government health plan, their whole, all their talk of a government takeover is based on just this little, relatively little public option idea, which they consider, you know, they justify calling the Obama plan a takeover of health care, because the public option they say would be a camel's nose under the tent, that it would make it impossible for private insurances companies to compete fairly, and drive them out of business, so that you'd be left with, you know, an all-government health insurance plan. I don't think most people think that's plausible. But nonetheless it's become the Republican symbol."

Hmm. Times columnist/economist Paul Krugman doesn't agree. At an event inNew Jerseythis summer, he sawthe elimination of private insurance as a welcomeeventuality once a public plan is in place: "...whereas something that lets people keep the insurance they have but then offers the option of a public plan, that may evolve into single-payer."