“I Don’t Know What The Public Option Is, But I Hate It”

Ken AshfordHealth CareLeave a Comment

The health care debate might be more productive if the public had a clue what the public option is.

A new survey by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates for the AARP reveals widespread uncertainty about the nature of the "public option" — a government-run health insurance policy that would be offered along with private policies in the newly-created health insurance exchanges. Just 37 percent of the poll's respondents correctly identified the public option from a list of three choices provided to them….

It is tempting to attribute these results to attempts by conservatives to blur the distinctions of the health care debate. And surely that is part of the story. But it may not be all that much of it. Democrats were more likely than Republicans to correctly identify the public option in this poll, but not by all that wide a margin — 41 percent versus 34 percent. Meanwhile, 35 percent of Republicans thought the public option refers to "creating a national healthcare system like they have in Great Britain" — but so did 23 percent of Democrats.

The poll specifically asked, "When politicians talk about including a 'public option' in healthcare reform, what do you think they mean?" Regardless of whether the respondents actually liked the idea or not, this simply sought to measure public understanding. The results found that just 37% realized that a public option would create a government-funded alternative to compete with private insurers; 26% thought a public option would create a British-style system; 13% thought a public option would create network of co-ops, and 23% simply had no idea.

The results would not have been much different if people guessed at random.

This is yet another piece of evidence in the my thesis that health care reform opponents (and even proponent) don't care to educate themselves about health care reform proposals.  To opponents, it's "Obama's" reform; therefore, it stinks.  And any piece of evidence (death panels, granny euthanasia, etc.) that conforms to that worldview is accepted without question merely because it conforms to that pre-existing worldview.

What's the solution?  Give it a better name than "the public option".  Republicans are good at this.  The "estate tax" which would have taxed the estates of people over $10,000,000 was labeled, quite simply, the "death tax".  And people took that to mean that the government would tax death — everyone's death — and that's baaaad.

So the phrase "public option" provision needs a makeover.  Maybe the "People's Choice" provision or the "U-Choose" provision?