Wyden on Maddow: Open the public option to everyone

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

On MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show last night, Senator Ron Wyden spoke in the strongest terms yet on the public option. He said that he will be working in the Finance Committee to insist that every American gets the right to change their health coverage, including to a public option.

Video below, but here's a little bit of transcript:

Look, all over America people are carrying these signs, public option, public option or bust. They`re wonderful activists, but a lot of folks haven`t been told that the Congressional Budget Office says only about 12 million people in America would actually get to choose the public option. They are likely to be sicker. They`re likely to be folks who haven`t had good preventive health care services.

To really put the consumer in the driver`s seat, to give the consumer clout, to turn the tables on the insurance lobby, you`ve got to have a really big group. That`s what I`m pushing for, and free choice is very compatible with the public option. ...

Here is our chance to link real choice, real consumer choice with the public option and tell people, if you`re getting hammered today, if you`re stuck with a product you don`t like, we`re going to liberate you. We`re going to put you in charge. And, you bet, if the Congress passes somehow an anti-consumer, anti-choice, anti-holding insurance companies accountable bill, I think we`ll pay dearly for it.

Watch the video:



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    [Full disclosure: My firm built Ron Wyden's campaign website, but I speak only for myself.]

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    Wyden's endorsement of a public option comes across like his position on the Iraq war - a change after he got an earful from voters. In 2002 at a "town hall" meeting in Central Oregon he gave the impression he was leaning in favor a voting for the war on Iraq. He got opposition in CO and, presumably, elsewhere and got around to voting against authorization to wreak slaughter and mayhem in Iraq.

    Wyden's official web site pronoucement on the Healthy Americans Act has nothing about the public option.

  • bradley (unverified)

    I said it before and I will say it again - did anyone really believe Wyden was going to vote against the public option? If so, watch the Maddow footage and shame on you. I'll eat my words if I'm wrong, but I'm not (wrong).

    I want the public option and I don't want to be excluded just because I'm covered through my employer. Even though I have pretty good coverage, if that changes, or if the public option looks like a winner, I want the exact same options that the uninsured will get under health reform. If Wyden can pull that off, things will never be the same for the insurance industry.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    I hope to gawd this is for real and not some bullshit positioning maneuver....

  • Mark McGaffin (unverified)

    Bill Bodden has repeated that story about how Wyden was going to vote for the war many times on BlueOregon. That's not what I heard. I talked to the senator prior to a town meeting in 2002 and he sounded very down on the idea of going to war in Iraq and he communicated that at his town meeting. He said there is no doubt that Saddam is a bad guy, but that there was inconsistent evidence about Saddam's role in 9-11 and he had questions about whether we could win the peace. Something to that effect.

    Let's say you are right on public option and Wyden, which I doubt, Bill. Are you so crabby that you can't give the senator a way-to-go for listening to you and others?

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    By the way, Lanny Davis was on the Ed Schultz show on MSNBC supporting the Wyden-Bennett bill. It seems like more and more people are figuring out that the so-called "public option" was something of a hoax if only 15% of the people could even qualify for it.

    Ed Schultz, of course, wasn't convinced because Bennett and other supporters of the bill are--gasp--Republicans. And of course what the public needs is not health insurance but the end of Republicans.

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    Bill Bodden has been making false claims about Sen. Wyden and the war for years. I wish he'd stop listening to those voices in his head, and pay attention to what people actually say.

  • sharon (unverified)

    "Look, all over America people are carrying these signs, public option, public option or bust. They`re wonderful activists..."

    Is this what John Kitzhaber calls a "sideshow"?

    It's not a "sideshow" to provide affordable coverage to millions and give private insurers some real competition in the market. If anything, it's a bit of a distracting sideshow for Kitzhaber to keep talking about changing how health care is delivered to folks who have no access (no insurance, can't afford it) to the system that delivers health care.

  • Dan Gicker (unverified)

    I think Wyden has shifted left on this issue after hearing from his constituents and I pleased at the approach he is taking now.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    @ Jack Roberts The public option is not part of the Wyden-Bennett bill, so don't equate supporting one with the other. And it should be said that Wyden-Bennett has no shot.

    Wyden's "Free Choice" amendment is a good one, but it involves a leap of de-linking from the present employer contracted health care plans. Choice is a strong selling point, and large majorities of Americans support the "choice" for a public option, even if they wouldn't choose it for themselves.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    Mark: What I said is what I heard. Perhaps, Wyden changed his tune by the time he reached your group. As for his latest apparent switch, my point is neither negative nor positive. It merely stated he apparently changed his position after getting feedback. Did you check Wyden's site for the points he listed on the Healthy Americans Act? I didn't see anything there about a public option.

    As for "Not Bill Bodden" what's your problem that you have to hide behind a pseudonym?

  • LT (unverified)

    I have long groaned at the people who reduce everything to what Ed Schultz calls the 2-3 word culture--although sometimes it may be a longer phrase or an entire sentence.

    "Support the troops" "the surge worked" during the Bush years.

    What exactly did that mean--better funding and treatment for veterans, or just a slogan telling people to agree with Bush? That a surge of troops alone (without the Anbar Awakening and the other things that happened at the same time) turned things around in Iraq?

    And so it has been with "we must have a public option". Even if every Democrat went to a microphone and said those words, it would not answer questions about who was covered, when the effective date was, etc.

    Jack, would you be happier with "guaranteed competition with large insurance companies"?

    What is it that the Mayo Clinic has just endorsed?

    Sharon, you are right, "It's not a "sideshow" to provide affordable coverage to millions and give private insurers some real competition in the market.

    However, it is valid to ask how "a public option" winning a majority of votes will affect the folks who are thrown out of their insurance in the next 6 months, or denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition in the next several months. Cong. Clyburn is right that the effective date of this stuff matters.

    There are those of us who were born in the mid-1940s. If the effective date of these reforms is such that we qualify for Medicare before the effective date, why is nagging Wyden to "support a public option or we will run someone against you in the primary" going to help anyone like us or who has trouble with insurance next April or May?

    It is easy to take one line out of any statement by any elected official or candidate who speaks in complete sentences and sometimes even intelligent paragraphs.

    The proof is in the pudding---if the "we must have a public option" folks can't answer questions about who is covered and when the effective date is--but by golly if you ask questions you don't support helping ordinary Americans---they aren't going to solve anything.

  • Theresa Kohlhoff (unverified)

    If the public option is not part of the Finance bill, how does Wyden's choice amendment help?

  • Kim (unverified)

    I am tired of all this talk, let's get something done finally!

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    Actual conversation I recently had with a social worker when I tried to enroll my kids in a public health plan this week:

    Me: "My business isn't doing well, & I'm won't be able to pay my insurance premiums this month, so I expect to lose my insurance. What can I do to move my kids over to the state health plan?"

    Her: "They aren't eligible for the state health plan unless you've been uninsured for six months."

    Amazing logic in legislation, don't you think--kids have to go six months without Rx co-pays or other coverage before being considered indigent enough to qualify. No chance of detrimental effects there, or of costing the system MORE if I have to rely on the emergency room as primary care. This stupidity needs to end.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    @ Theresa Kohloff

    I believe Ron Wyden is planning to include his "Choice Amendment" later,after the bill is out of the finance committee, but can't be sure about that.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    "I am tired of all this talk, let's get something done finally!"

    Kim: The odds are that talk is all we are going to get. The prominent plans out there are mostly sponsored by recipients of generous campaign donations from the insurance-medical-pharmaceutical (IMP) complex, and as long as they keep talking up their various plans nothing gets done. But apparently talk ain't cheap. Someone said recently that the IMP lobbyists are spending $1.4 million a DAY to fight reform.

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    The Wyden-Bennett Healthy Americans Act and Wyden's Free Choice Act neither require nor preclude a so-called public option (why do people insist on calling it "the" public option when so many people seem to have different ideas of what it means?)

    The key is that eveyone--even people who have employer-provided health insurance--must be given at least one alternative. Ideally, everyone would be able to participate in the health care exchange.

    It is interesting that, while I've heard people refer to the health insurance available to members of Congress and other federal employees as a "public option," it is my understanding that none of the alternatives available under that plan is in fact a government of "public" insurance policy.

    That said, I have no problem with a public insurance option along the lines of the SAIF worker's comp insurer here in Oregon. But, like President Obama, I have trouble understanding why this has become the end-all and be-all of health care reform.

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    Jack, you've hit on what I think is a key point. Wyden is committed foremost (beyond bipartisanship for its sake) to choice as a reform goal. Laudable, but he thinks choice among private plans can suffice, from what I've seen this week at HuffPost, here on Maddow, and Ed. It's the competition that will control costs, and there's no seeming recognition of the simply vital role played by publicly issued insurance, as opposed to...not. You're right as far as I understand it; the Congressional plan is a fabulous menu of choices, but they're all private plans.

    In my view what Wyden should be saying if he's for a public option, is the same thing Merkley and guys like Weiner are saying--like Medicare for everyone. Saying like what Congress gets is NOT what people are talking about as a PO, really. Is that a tell that Wyden will pass out and eventually vote through a bill with individual mandates, high-benefit plan taxes, and no public option--but the important opportunity to choose from among a varied menu of shitty, expensive and highly untenable private plans? I sure hope not.

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    In my view what Wyden should be saying if he's for a public option, is the same thing Merkley and guys like Weiner are saying--like Medicare for everyone.

    You mean Medicare for everyone, except that participants below age 65 pay the full premium themselves (rather than it being paid for by the payroll tax, paid for my everyone)?

    Is that the option you would choose, if given the chance?

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    Yeah, TJ, because Wyden's worked on this issue for 20 years precisely to make sure that you only have access to "shitty, expensive, and highly untenable" health care. He must be a real asshole.

  • DF (unverified)

    Senator Wyden is one of the only Senators willing to approach health reform from a reasonable and functional point of view.

    On the Rachel Maddow show he said he'd support a public option IF and ONLY IF it gave all people, including those already covered by their employer but don't like it, the option to enter into the exchange. Kari wrote post earlier this year that explained this problem perfectly.

    The term "public option" has been a buzz word for Americans, as well as certain Senators, on both sides of the aisle who have not taken the time to actually understand what it would mean.

    Senator Wyden should be commended for his willingness to go against any plan or idea, regardless or party, that won't amount to true health reform.

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    Resolution adopted by the CD-1 Committee: Resolution of the First Congressional District of the Democratic Party of the State of Oregon

    Whereas, we the People have given the Democratic Party a historic opportunity to serve all the American People, and

    Whereas, it is crucial to have a Health Care Reform Bill, that covers all Americans who are in need, passed in this session if the Democratic Party is to continue to survive and thrive in the immediate future and to maintain a majority in the next elections, and

    Whereas, President Obama has stated his desire to have such a Public Option Health Plan available within his Health Care Reform Initiative, and

    Whereas, President Obama needs our support now for his Health Insurance Reform Plan to become reality,

    Now, therefore, we urge the Democratic Party of Oregon (DPO) and the State Central Committee of the DPO to formally declare their support of President Obama’s plan to all of our U.S. Congressional Delegation, and

    Now, therefore, the 1st Congressional District resolves and demands that David Wu and all of our Oregon Congressional delegation give their full support to President Obama in this historic quest for Health Care Insurance Reform.

    Adopted this day, September 12, 2009

  • bird (unverified)

    The senior senator has found out that 80% of the people in Oregon want a public option. Why did it take so long? And please, what is your obsession with insurance? Health care has nothing to do with insurance. You have been to other nations. You have been to civilized nations where health care is a right. We demand that right. Do you understand?

  • Paul Burke - Author Journey Home (unverified)

    It's about time someone spoke up!

    If you think the insurance companies are going to lower their cost while having a monopoly over the process – well I’ve got a bridge to sell you …and I think Wall Street should be completely unregulated – I trust strangers with my money…and pollution is good and we should take all of the air bags out of the cars….

    When industry has an iron lock grip on distribution and the markets – the government is driven by the people to take corrective action create competition and safe guard the markets and its assets through the rule of law. It’s our saving grace. Our market systems depend and only will thrive on competition; unregulated markets are a roller coaster ride of boom, bubble and burst.

    Individual businesses operate at a cross hair as to what is good for the markets and its assets and resources – those resources are not only minerals, timber, coal and oil but you and I and the air we breathe. Individual businesses want to eliminate all competition in order to maximize their profits – from the guy that runs Kinko’s – who worries about Copy Connection opening up down the street to Microsoft out maneuvering Firefox to be the only player in the operating system market, to AT&T wanting to be the only Phone Company, or Cable wanting to shut out Satellite from operating in your neighborhood.

    The winner takes all mentality doesn’t take into account the whole system. Each sector of the economy impacts each other. It needs to be maintained through the rule of law in balance to operate at its most efficient. That’s what governments do and what government is for. The pure free market system is a myth. It doesn’t exist and as an economic model is pure anarchy.

    Unfortunately a bill of goods has been sold to a section of the public – so much so they are willing not to vote their pocket book but emotionally respond to buzz words and fear mongering and to protest against their own self interest.

    The media is a powerful tool well underestimated by the millions sitting on their sofas watching it passively every night. But well understood by those who want to shape public opinion – not for the public's own good but for their own profit and powerful self interest.

    As we are forced to re-regulate the markets because of the enormous damage done to our economy by the unregulated markets, foreclosures, unemployment and stagnating wages, and as we are forced to roll back the enormous take of the middle men who run the insurance sector, and as we are forced to wean ourselves off oil and dirty energy sources that are crippling our economy by holding back innovation, invention and the clean energy job sector – we are going to hear all kinds of horrible things about those elected leaders pragmatic enough and smart enough to know that change is necessary.

    We are going to hear horrible lies, distortions of truth and promotion of violence as the status quo looses part of its grip.

    The bellyaching coming from their media outlets is going to be enormous.

    But at the end of the day if you vote your own pocket book and don’t care what happens to the millionaire strangers trying to pull the strings in Congress, and don’t take up their causes as if they were your own, and keep your eye focused on what is best for you and your family – then the Country will be fine.

    There is nothing dirty or evil about the words “Public” or “Option” – in fact those words are what make this Country go!

  • LT (unverified)

    I was watching the Senate Finance Comm. hearing on CSPAN last night. Wyden showed his experience with the process. All he did was say "I have a question of counsel. If we vote for this amendment, what will be the effect on....".

    Some of the people on the committee didn't like the answer, but that sure resulted in a substantial debate!

    There was also an amendment about about use of plain language as well as CBO estimates in posting information for the general public. Sen. Conrad read some legislative language, "Section D part 3 is to be replaced by half of part 4" kind of thing. Sen. Roberts said everyone on the committee should understand the legislative language and he knew Sen. Conrad was talking about .....except that Sen. Conrad had been reading from some other section of the bill.

  • LT (unverified)

    Jack, I read your intelligent Oregonian column. Glad to see you going beyond "we must have tort reform" or claiming it is the answer to everything.

    If the Texas model were really all anyone needed to make the cost of medical care go down, McAllen and El Paso should have the same medical costs, but according to recent studies they vary widely.

    You said in your column "But maybe it's time to consider a more radical reform, such as a system of no-fault insurance for medical malpractice similar to the workers' compensation system. "

    I heard a doctor on some show or other saying another possibility for reforming malpractice ("a bigger problem than lawyers want to admit, but not as big a problem as some doctors think it is" was the quip) would be mandatory arbitration as a first step. Anyone could then take it to court if they didn't like the result. BUT the arbitration report would be accepted as evidence.

    Another idea. Professions are always talking about "best practices". In education it has been determined that students learn in different ways. Some do better by hearing, some by listening, others by doing things. Some students need more help than others. More attention is now being given these days to "middle" students--the students who are not gifted, not remedial, but need a little extra help understanding some subjects so that they can aspire to college.

    By the same token, there are currently accepted medical practices.

    If Republicans are worried about government making the decision on best practices, why not some famous medical school studying the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, and other well know medical organizations (what have VA and military hospitals learned in the last 10 years, esp. in dealing with amputees and other medical situations?) and then they could publish a list of "best practices" to be followed in this country.

    Then if a doctor could say "I followed the list of best practices, here is the evidence" that would be a valid defense for a malpractice suit.

    Or course, that means having an intelligent discussion.

    "We must have tort/malpractice reform" is no more a serious political platform than "we must have a public option".

    Jack, maybe it is time to have a discussion with your Republican friends. Republicans who are admired outside of "the base" are those in the Oregon legislature like St. Sen. Jackie Winters and Frank Morse, nationally like Sen. Olympia Snowe. Only members of the GOP can decide if it wants to be just a "base" party or appeal to those who voted for "Democrat candidates". (Hint, if members of the "Republic" party want to win elections, they might pay better attention to their use of words. I am currently registered as a Democrat, but after a really annoying Democratic primary in a previous decade, I got so mad at "you must support the nominee and not ask questions" that I registered NAV and stayed that way for 6 years.)

    Which leads to today's announcement news---Paul Kirk as interim US Sen. from Mass.

    I was active in the Democratic Party when Paul Kirk was DNC chair. I would humbly suggest that before the GOP will again have national success, they might look for their own Paul Kirk. He took over a party where some had thought Mondale was the greatest candidate ever and were crushed that he'd been creamed by the Reagan landslide. Others active in the party had thought the election was lost the night Mondale was nominated. Another faction thought the future was in the south and formed the DLC (originally formed as a group which appealed to southern white males until they started doing outreach to the rest of the country).

    Under DNC Chair Kirk, "pleasing the base" was demphasized in favor of winning elections. In 1985 a visiting former Dem. Gov. from what we now call a "red state" spoke to an Oregon Dem. State Central Comm. meeting in Portland and the theme of the speech "the purpose of the Democratic Party is to win elections". That some argued with that speech should give you an idea of where the Democratic party was back then, before the 1986 takeover of the US Senate by a larger number than anyone predicted. [I was taking a seminar class the fall of 1986 and for one paper collected every US prediction I could find--none were even close.]

    It is hard for some people to get beyond the talking point political culture. However, a Republican running for office saying that alternative forms of malpractice reform include a system like workers comp, a system with mandatory arbitration as the first step, etc. could easily inspire intelligent debate.

    But are there Republicans who want intelligent debate? Are they drowned out by the loudmouths who only want to tell people what is wrong with Democrats but not offer specific solutions? (Hint: "we have this idea, you should support it and not ask questions" doesn't count as intelligent debate over specific ideas.)

    Like some Democrats over 2 decades ago (esp. those who had a hard time coping with how badly Mondale lost) does the GOP want to be the party of "Republicans are infallible, Democrats are the focus of evil in the modern world" and if voters don't like that attitude, not their problem?

    I believe that we need to pay close attention to details. I've seen Wyden at town hall meetings take out his insurance card and explain how members of Congress choose their health insurance provider.

    Does "public option" mean that sort of system? Or does it mean "if you meet income criteria and don't get health care coverage from your employer"? What is the effective date in the legislation--this election cycle, the next one, or the one after that?

    Slogans don't answer those questions. But the intellectually lazy don't care about that--intelligent discussion means having to think. Maybe that is just too much work for them.

  • Jake Leander (unverified)

    I'm glad that Senator Wyden supports making a public insurance option open to everyone, but making "choice" the central issue is also a easy way to oppose single-payer. And single-payer remains the approach that can best supply good healthcare to the most people for the lowest cost, and would do so without a cumbersome, heavy-handed personal insurance mandate.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    From one of my favorite essayists, Lewis Lapham: We Expect Immortality From Medicine -- and It's Destroying Our Health

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    "Another view is that the embedded influence of Big Insurance, Big Pharma, and Big Medicine were easier to conceal when spread out over several committees, where the lobbyists are themselves former congressmen, senators and their top staffers, and many current members and staff look forward to the same career paths. These are the men and women who wrote what is and will be the president's health insurance reform legislation. The result has been a half dozen versions of a thousand-plus page bill, chock full, as Rolling Stone's Matt Taibi points out, of deliberately obscure references to other legislation. "

    The above is from an article by Bruce Dixon: Why the Public Option is Doomed To Fail, and What Can Be Done About It

  • bradley (unverified)

    I think the reason Wyden keeps making choice the central issue - at least for him - has nothing to do with making it easier to avoid voting for single payer, Jake. That seems to be rather easy to do as not one member of the Senate committees is fighting for single payer.

    If I understand him correctly, and I agree with him on this, he knows that right now under the Obama plan most Americans will still experience job lock and frustration with our insurance companies. Wyden says only 12 million of us will get public option under the current bills (I vote for Oregon getting it first, base it on per capita support by state!), and that number sure won't put any pressure on insurance companies to change a single thing they are doing today. If only 12 million Americans will get the public option, I want that number to grow. But if Congress is too wimpy to expand the public option to everyone, why not at least make insurance companies compete on a level playing field? Why do I have to simply take whatever crap insurance my employer gives me with no voice in the matter?

  • Jake Leander (unverified)


    Arguments do not remain private possessions. If "choice" becomes associated with good healthcare policy, it will be used to oppose single-payer whenever it becomes seriously considered. I do not believe that is necessarily Wyden's thinking.

    I support a bill with a public option over one without it, and a robust public option over a limited one, but the challenges to a successful public health insurance program are considerable enough to make me believe that Congress will eventually seriously consider single-payer. When that happens, I do not want "choice" used as a red herring to oppose the idea.

  • Emmit Goldman (unverified)

    Jake Leander is prescient re ways that the DP will find to oppose Medicare for All, the only sane alternative. Corporatists will find a way.

    And I agree with Jack Roberts about "public option", which is bullshit linguistic obfuscation. It means anything we "hope" it will mean, just like Obama-ism.

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    Anything that is an "option" is not like Medicare, which is a population based tax funded entitlement.

    Obama has been deploying a peculiar and misleading rhetoric of "choice": "If you like you've got, you can keep it. [If you don't like what you've got, you must keep it.]"

    N.B. that Wyden's bill is not only about a public plan if one ends up in "the Exchange" but about the openness of "the Exchange" itself.

    He is quite right that restricted as they are the extant public plan proposals would be dumping grounds for higher risk clients & pretty much designed to fail since they are precluded from using public sector efficiencies, which of course would be best realized in a tax funded universal national health insurance program ("single payer").

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    Bird writ: "Health care has nothing to do with insurance."

    Hello!? Health insurance has everything to do with health care (HC) and in far too many cases the care comes only if the providers know they're going to get paid. But Bird hints at one of the several real problems in HC is the lack of sufficient numbers of providers. When the HC reform act comes up, it must contain huge subsidies for medical and nursing schools as well as for students. It must also contain subsidies for community HC clinics and a requirement that subsidized students practice therein on salary for a minimum period.

    Of course, one of the other major problems in HC delivery is control of lobbyists. And this goes hand in hand with campaign finance reform wherein private HC entities are prohibited from giving campaign contributions to candidates.

    Naturally, none of this will happen. Nice dream though.

  • Fireslayer (unverified)

    Well bleep me once again. I must eat my words and concede that Wyden may be the angel in the grass this debate has waited for. His approach may be the best shot for doing a robust public option on reconciliation.

    Cudos to Chris for pointing out the fallacy of Obama's rhetorical forked tongue on "choice." A choice to merely switch private carriers is no choice at all- especially when exchange pools will encourage more monopolization.

    And shame on the AFL-CIO. Methinks the leadership's kickback from their insurers is showing. However, Oregon head Tom Chamberlin is open about his preference for single payer so apparently he is not on the take like it would seem the national leadership is motivated in this regard.

    And I must repeat- I believe Republicans should have the right to pay 30% or more greater premiums for dicey coverage in their sacred madcow private sector. I also believe Republicans should shun doctors and have their end of life discussions with insurance adjusters.

    <h2>My main reason for supporting a robust public option is pure spite for anyone stupid enough to buy private insurance if a non-profit public plan is available.</h2>

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