Dennis Kucinich: The Public Option is Dead, Long Live the Public Option

As I alluded to in this post on Tuesday, I participated in a conference call between the Canadian membership of Democrats Abroad and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich on the topic of health care reform. The reason for my participation is simple. I am an American citizen working for an American corporation but living in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

When I was offered the opportunity to relocate from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Vancouver, British Columbia I did as any other person would do, I consulted my wife and together we listed out all of the pro’s, con’s, opportunities and risks surrounding this potential move. Uprooting a young family is not something that should be taken lightly no matter how lucrative the opportunity may seem. In the end, one of the items that helped tip the scales in favor of relocation was Canada’s single payer health care system.

Now, I can already hear the angry mobs amassing at the comment section ready to shout their uninformed drivel about how awful the Canadian health care system is, how people are dying in the street waiting for services, and how such a horrific socialist system would never work in the U.S. To that let me just say one thing. Bullshit.

It has been nearly two years since I took my family to Canada and so far our experience with the health care system is quite the opposite. But that is not why I am writing today so rather than spend too much time here talking about it I promise another post (or series) on the topic at a later date.

Back to the topic at hand. So Tuesday I participated in this con call with Rep. Kucinich fully expecting to be on the receiving end of another one of those political action speeches where the politician shows up and rally’s the troops to whatever end he/she has in mind. Instead, I was greeted by an open line conference call where all participants introduced themselves and each had an opportunity to ask a question of the Representative. Refreshing to say the least.

My question was simple, after having watched both House Oversight Committee hearings on health care reform lead by the congressman I asked him this:

“During the hearings you stated that your bill (HR676) was likely DOA. Can you explain why? What is preventing our representatives from actually acting in the interest of their constituency.”

His answer was not at all what I expected. He lead by defending his effort. “First let me point out that hr676 has 70 co-sponsors in the house of representatives” which I agree nothing to sneeze at. But then came the message that Kucinich had decided he wanted to carry to this group of American expats,

“In 2000 I tried to bring a bill and was asked by the head of the Gore campaign not to bring it because of the funding they were receiving [from the health care industry].

In 2008 I was excluded from debates that were sponsored by health insurance companies. It is a huge business and they are determined not to let go of it. They use their influence to buy their way through. Even a weak public option is not going to get through this congress.”

And he did not end with that. In answer after answer to each question posed by the group he hammered home two distinct messages. 1) In this congress the public option is dead and 2) a public option will eventually prevail but it will be a decade long struggle.

When questioned about whether the blue-dog Democrats were in effect siding with the Republicans and/or the health care industry Kucinich said,

“It’s my opinion that the blue dogs are doing exactly what the white house wants them to do. The public option was a trial balloon. I can not stress how cynical and brutal the politics are. This is not about the public option. Anyone looking for the public option needs to look someplace else. It is not going to happen and anybody who says it is is in fantasy land.”

When asked about what can be done for American health care reform Kucinich took the position of  man with a deeper understanding of the true struggle,

“We have to take a long term perspective on this. 8-10 years down the road. This is a civil rights movement we have here. I think we are going to have single payer in the states one day. Unfortunately there are going to be many people who get sick, go broke and die before we get there.”

What Kucinich was doing was resetting expectations and delivering a hard message to the majority of Americans that support a public option today.

He was saying do not expect a public option any time soon. Whatever might get through this congress masquerading as a public option will not be worth much. And if a public option is ever to pass on a national level it will likely come only after a groundswell of grassroots effort. Reset your clocks for a long term fight. Work with local organizations such as the one being lead by Chuck Pennacchio in Pennsylvania with HealthCare4AllPA.

19 Responses to “Dennis Kucinich: The Public Option is Dead, Long Live the Public Option”

  1. empi says:

    I like Kucinich but I believe he’s wrong and a bit bitter.

  2. Hope says:

    I hope he’s wrong. Perhps he’s angry that his particular version won’t pass?

  3. rxgary says:

    in other words dems and gops need both be voted out in favor of true independents. then first item of agenda should be to outlaw all paid lobbyists, making citizens the only lobbyists.

  4. Widollar says:

    Since all politicians are bought and paid for by the corporate power elete in America, all Congress does is to “play act” regarding improving the conditions in America for the average citizen. They can only do what the money guys allow them to do like little hand puppets. The GOP just happens to be the most rotten of the bunch! The middle class of America will continue to slide backwards over the cliff, unfortunately!

  5. friendly editor says:

    In your first sentence: “alluded,” not “eluded.”

  6. Alex says:

    I work with one of Dennis’ former volunteers, Matt Reichel here in Chicago, and it really sounds like Dennis is on the money here. Other times, like when he runs for President, he’s liberal sucker bait, but here he’s on the money.

    Dennis, please stop running for president and fostering illusions in the redeemability of the Dems. Support a principled candidate like Nader or whoever the left populists put forward, in future.

    Otherwise, good column, very informative.

  7. Robbie says:

    thanks for posting this. I had a feeling that the public option was going no where.

  8. orangutan says:

    If we get something that is called a ‘public option’, it will work something like this: everyone that the insurance companies don’t want to cover (pre-existing conditions, people whose disease is threatening to cost too much, etc.) will be dumped to the public option. Thus, the public option will be populated by the very ill. For this reason, it will cost too much, so it will have to be subsidized. Where will the government get the money? Not by taxing the rich or the corporations. There will be some tricky bookkeeping, but ultimately it will be paid for in government debt that the middle class owes. Meanwhile, the insurance companies will enjoy even larger profit margins, because they can eliminate their sick customers and decrease the amount they spend on harassing doctors.

  9. Doctor Matt says:

    A health care delivery system designed to maximize profit will never deliver the ultimate objective: affordable, universal access to quality health care.

    Americans currently spend twice per capita ($7,000 per year) on health care as most other industrialized nations.

    We’re paying more than enough for universal quality health care, but aren’t getting it.

    Why is this?

    All plans currently spotlighted lack a single payer financing mechanism. Therefore, all these proposals will require large tax increases over the long term.

    A single payer method of collecting and distributing payments for medical services leaves the delivery of medical care in the hands of the private sector.

    It is not “socialized medicine” like our military health care system, but is “socialized insurance” like our Medicare program.

    This approach is endorsed by Physicians for a National Health Program (, with 17,000 members nationwide.

    S703, the American Health Security Act of 2009 would cover all of the 46 million Americans who currently lack coverage and improve benefits for all Americans by eliminating co-pays and deductibles while allowing free choice of physician. It is the most fiscally conservative option for reform.

    By eliminating the high overhead and profits of the private, investor-owned health insurance industry, along with the burdensome paperwork imposed on physicians, hospitals and other providers, the plan saves $400 billion annually – enough money to provide comprehensive, quality care to all. Comprehensive benefits, including coverage for dental, mental health, and prescription drugs.

    The program is paid for by combining current sources of government health spending into a single fund with modest new taxes amounting to less than what people now pay for insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.

    A similar single payer bill, HR 676 (Expanded and Improved Medicare for All) has over 80 co-sponsors in the House.

    A “public plan option” will not realize such savings. Incremental tinkering with private for-profit health insurance will not ultimately control costs. States have tried individual mandate plans and found them not to work.

    Single payer is not a panacea. However, without it we will never reach the imperative of providing universal access to quality health care.

    It’s time to give the for-profit health insurance companies their pink slip, and provide retraining for their employees who will be displaced.

    I recommend you watch an excellent documentary titled Health, Money and Fear.

    Produced by an ER physician, it addresses the many drivers behind escalating health care costs.

    You can watch it at

    Please encourage your elected officials to back single payer.

  10. peedeecee says:

    Please correct the spelling in the first sentence to read “alluded.” We keep giving the right a hard time about spelling mistakes in their teabagging signs – we need to keep our end up, so to speak. Thanks.

  11. bill haywood says:

    Americans won’t get health care reform until they;re willing to fight for it. and with the amount of money the “insurance” industry makes off death and suffering, I mean fight … literally.

    When “insurance” executives start getting the Mussolini treatment on a regular basis, single payer will be right around the corner. No sooner.

    Decorate the telephone poles with them. Or just shut the hell up.

  12. cydni says:

    I am becoming very disallusioned with President Obama and the Democratic congress.
    I thought we were going to get change. If we don’t have at least, the public option, nothing changes. When campaigning, the President had us believe he would get single payer passed.
    And what are we to do with the so-called Democrats who call themselves “blue dog”, but are essentially Republicans? Should the party go for broke and tell them to get out? Should the party field progressive candidates against them? What if the party cannot find more progressive candidates? Why do the Democrats, who worked their asses off last year and gave money they didn’t have to elect a majority, have to settle for watered down crap and smile while we call it “change”? I am sick of living in a country that is being forced to go further and further to the right. The Democratic Party is right of center and the Republican Party is reactionary right wing. How can we make progress when progress requires a radically new and left of center agenda? I am ready to move to another country. Canada is sounding very good these days.

  13. Mike says:

    Cydni: Canada is sounding very good these days.

    Maybe so, but they can’t accept 50% of the US population.

    How about this. All the ‘blue’ states should secede and become provinces of Canada.

  14. Thanks peedeecee. Done.

  15. Canadian says:

    Mike: By Canadian standards, Obama is so far to the right as to be unelectable and anybody to the right of Obama can only be characterized as “lunatic right”. (Relevant example: no serious Canadian politician would dare attack single payer health care.) Given that, do you think that there is even one U.S. state that would qualify as “moderate” on the Canadian spectrum? If not, I am afraid that we could not consider your proposal.

  16. Diane says:

    It get’s worse….How in hell are we ever going to vote these A holes out of
    Your Once-Public Elections & Your Once-Public Elections on ES&S Monopoly Steroids

  17. Paul Burke says:

    If you think the insurance companies are going to voluntarily lower our costs and their profits and their million dollar wages 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 airbags should be removed from all our cars.

    Our market systems depend and thrive on competition; unregulated markets are a vicious roller coaster ride of boom, bubble and bust. The winner takes all mentality doesn’t take into account the whole system that’s what governments are for. The pure free market system is a myth. It doesn’t exist and as an economic model is anarchy.

    At the end of the day vote your pocket book. Don’t take up millionaire strangers causes as if they were your own. They have plenty of paid voices lobbying for them. Keep your eye on what is best for you and your family and the Country will be fine.

    Paul Burke
    Author-Journey Home

  18. Rick554 says:

    Geez ! My congressman wouldnt come to any Townhall meetings, had his staff lie about his schedule and went back to DC and gave Barack a big smooch. Dennis has a lot to say now, but I guess you’d have to be in Canada to hear it.
    Dennis was excluded from the debates and HIS health-care bill/scam wasnt good enough for Gore. Why should us chumps from his district buy into a plan HE wont buy into?
    Congressman, enjoy your time in DC while it lasts. When 2010 is over, you’d better ask Shirley McClain if she might need a roomie again.
    It would be nice if you actually got something accomplished between now and Nov 2010, but with your record, we dont expect anything.

  19. RDC says:

    Rep Kucinich spoke yesterday to a small crowd in Lafayette Park across from the White House.
    The MadAsHellDoctors rally was poorly attended, but the speakers were sincere and truthful.

    Kucinich is one extraordinary orator—–I was moved by his words, and I am pretty jaded by politicoSpeak. But he speaks from his heart, and from his gut and I found it impossible to not listen with all of my being. The American Native People who loved oratory would have elected him Chieftan in a hurry. They were wiser than us. (Even though we killed them–we find ways to kill some of the best we have to offer.)

    The forces who are empowered to make self-serving decisions for everyone else continuing to call the shots a surprise to anyone…?
    It is that same egoistic mentality that has allowed greed a priority seat at the table. Nothing could more dramatically exemplify this than Baucus & Co. denying a voice to any but their masters.


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