Reid Muddies Water: I’m For Public Option–So Long As It’s Private

August 28, 2009 1:56 p.m.

During a tele-townhall with constituents today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he supports a public option…but then he added an extremely important caveat. Reid said he doesn’t think the public option ought to be a government run program like Medicare, but instead favors a “private entity that has direction from the federal government so people that don’t fall within the parameters of being able to get insurance from their employers, they would have a place to go. ”

That sounds suspiciously like Reid would prefer a so-called co-op system, which almost all reformers regard with suspicion, and many regard as a non-starter. Reid is ultimately more than just one vote, too. If the Senate passes a health care bill through the regular legislative process, he’ll be the one marrying two different pieces of legislation: one which creates a public option, and one which creates co-ops. Likewise, if the Senate passes health care reforms on a partisan basis through the so-called reconciliation process, his office would take the lead in determining whether to try an include a public option in the reconciliation bill.

I’ll update this post when I’ve received comment from Reid’s staff.

Late update: Reid spokesman Jim Manley emails in that Reid’s preference is for a “public option,” but would not confirm that Reid means “public option” as commonly understood: an insurance program run by the Department of Health and Human Services or another government body.

Late late update: Manley adds, “The govt could contract w a private company to administer the public option. [Sen. Reid] is willing to consider a co-op if he is shown it works to make insurers honest.”

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