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Rockefeller Is Looking Into Public Option Opt-Out

The Hill is reporting that Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is looking very carefully at the public option opt-out “compromise”:

“I think there’s one way that could work very well and could pick up some of the moderates,” Rockefeller told reporters. “I’m looking very much now at this opt-out public option.” Under the alternative proposal, the public option would be available nationwide but individual states could decline to participate.

So far, Rockefeller has been one of the strongest defenders of a real public option in the Senate, so his openness to the opt-out is clearly a disappointment. It could be a sign that the idea is gaining some traction in the Senate with Reid likely to make a decision about the public option in the coming days.

I’ve personally have been no fan of the opt-out and have laid out several of the problems with the idea. Primarily, it is people in red states who most need a public option and they are the ones most likely to be denied it with an opt-out.

The nicest thing I can say is Rockefeller did use the phrase “there’s one way that could work very well.” In theory, an opt out could be designed to make it very unlikely a state would opt out. For example, if states that opt out were required to fully reimburse the federal government for the resulting increase in cost, I doubt many would. Given what I know about Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats, however, I’m not holding my breath on that.

I suspect any opt-out compromise Reid would accept would be a weak public option with a very easy opt-out. The result would be hundreds of millions of dollars spent by the insurance industry lobbying to make sure most of the red and purple states opt-out in the next three years–before the public option is even made available. Progressives should be about helping all Americans in need, not just Americans lucky enough to live in blue states. (And even blue states may not be safe with potential Democratic governors like Creigh Deeds.)

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at