Without mentioning the public option specifically, Stern said that Obama needs to take a hard line in negotiations between the House and the Senate, "to work with the conferees on the issues that he has said from the very beginning are important to him."
He did say, though, that the prospects for a public option or a Medicare buy-in seem pretty dim. "It's hard to imagine it getting it better in conference," he said.
Stern added that the clumsy, year-long fight over health care in the Senate needs to serve as a wake up call to elected officials that the upper chamber is broken.
"After this bill is passed," Stern said, "the Senate needs to take a very hard look at how it's going to deal with the future in our country."
"They have a process now that is not meeting the needs of the American people."
And what if, in conference, Stern's chief concerns (affordability, access, the financing mechanism in the Senate bill) are not addressed? It's far from clear that he'll break ranks with the Democratic party.
"There are lots of parts of the Senate bill that are really good," he said.