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Obama re-reaffirms support for public option

Reacting to a report on Tuesday that he may be prepared to use the public option as a bargaining chip for healthcare reform, President Obama issued a statement reaffirming his support for a public insurance plan.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said it was more important that healthcare reform create increased competition among private insurers than implement a public plan to facilitate that competition.

In the statement, Obama reiterated his preference for a public option.

“I am pleased by the progress we’re making on health care reform and still believe, as I’ve said before, that one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality is a public option that will force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest,” Obama said. “I look forward to a final product that achieves these very important goals.”

Here are the the grafs in the Wall Street Journal story that are likely bothering the White House.

One of the most contentious issues is whether to create a public health-insurance plan to compete with private companies.

Mr. Emanuel said one of several ways to meet President Barack Obama’s goals is a mechanism under which a public plan is introduced only if the marketplace fails to provide sufficient competition on its own. He noted that congressional Republicans crafted a similar trigger mechanism when they created a prescription-drug benefit for Medicare in 2003. In that case, private competition has been judged sufficient and the public option has never gone into effect.

The timing of the statement could also be related to the fact that the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is about to resume marking up its healthcare bill, which, for the first time, now officially includes a public option. It could also be related to the fact that a bipartisan group of Senate Finance Committee members is continuing talks to develop a compromise package that probably won’t include a public option. (The House bill has one.)

The White House is also expected to make another announcement this week on healthcare reform, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. According to the article, the long-awaited deal between the Obama administration and the hospital industry will be unveiled Tuesday. Under the apparent terms of the deal, hospitals will agree to $150 billion in Medicare cuts over 10 years in exchange for the administration setting aside proposals for deeper cuts and for having the agreed-upon cuts phased in over time to soften the blow.

– Jeffrey Young and Jeremy P. Jacobs

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