While the President was out of town, over the weekend, two of his key employees stayed in town to give hints that the White House may be backing off of part of its demands for a controversial government-run insurance plan. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said it is not the essential element of comprehensive health care reform. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told an audience on CBS's "Face the Nation" that the President will be satisfied if the private insurance market has choice and competition.
Secretary Sebelius listed the essential parts of the program, including: coverage for all Americans, lowering the crushing cost for everyone, making sure that there are new rules for insurance companies, that they can't dump people out of the marketplace if they get sick, that they can't drop coverage based on a pre-existing condition, that you can't be priced out because you're a woman instead of a man, and gender discrimination won't be allowed to continue anymore.
And not to be overlooked is public opinion. Senator Kent Conrad, D-N.D., a member of the Finance Committee now crafting its own plan, said hope for a government-run public option to be included in a final reform bill is all but dead. Conrad said there are not the votes in the Senate for the public option.
"To continue to chase that rabbit, I think, is just a wasted effort," Conrad said. "Proponents such as President Obama, who has voiced support for a public option, to keep the insurance companies honest, should temper their expectations."