White House Still Backs ‘Public Option’ Health Plan, ‘Nothing Has Changed,’ Says HHS Secretary Sebelius

By Nicholas Ballasy | August 18, 2009 | 12:31 PM EDT

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that “absolutely nothing has changed” with the White House’s position on health care reform because it “continues to support the public option,” a proposed government-run health care program in the House and Senate versions of legislation to reform health care.

Those commnents contrast somewhat with remarks she made on CNN’s Sunday edition of “State of the Union.” Then, Sebelius had said that the public option itself “is not the essential element” of health care reform, which led many observers to speculate that the public option was no longer supported by the White House.

On Monday, for example, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, a doctor, told CBS “The Early Show”: “You can’t really have reform without a public option. … [L]et’s not pretend we’re doing reform without a public option.”

On Tuesday at a conference held by the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., Sebelius said, “If you were watching the news over the weekend, you probably have seen reports about the Obama administration and the public option portion of the health reform plan.

“All I can tell you is that Sunday must have been a very slow news day because here’s the bottom line: Absolutely nothing has changed. We continue to support the public option that will help lower costs, give American consumers more choice and keep private insurers honest.”

“If people have other ideas about how to accomplish these goals, we’ll look at those too,” she said. “But the public option is a very good way to do this.”
Sebelius also praised the public option’s effectiveness in Kansas, the state she governed before joining the Obama administration.
“I’ve seen it work for state employees in states like Kansas where a public option is side by side with private insurers offering competition and choice for state employees,” she said. “It’s what it does when it provides choice in markets that are often dominated by one insurance company – a monopoly that can charge what it wants because it has no competition, and that’s what we want to do in health reform. More choices. More competition – that’s the bottom line goal.”
Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP), the group that sponsored Tuesday’s conference, is an organization that helps Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries “avoid, detect, and prevent health care fraud,” according to its Web site