President Obama was asked a good question at one of his town hall meetings last week. The question went to the heart of the confusion about the public option. Obama's answer missed the point.
The question was something like "If there's a public option, and I get my health insurance from my employer, can I just quit my company plan and jump on the public option?" The unspoken follow-ups are: "If lots of people do this, won't it cost a ton of money? Wouldn't that require a huge tax increase to pay for it? Wouldn't that be a government take over of health care - exactly what people are so up in arms about?"
Obama went on about how the CBO says his plan will cost less than $100 billion per year, how they will get some savings from efficiency, how they won't raise taxes on the middle class. All true. But beside the point.
The real reason you probably won't want to jump off your employer-provided plan, and onto the government one, is that doing so will cost you a lot of money. The public option is not an entitlement. It won't be given away or paid for in tax dollars. They will charge their subscribers premiums, just like any health insurance provider. This is why it won't require huge tax increases. This is why, unless your employer offers the government plan (and maybe even if it does), it may not be such a great deal.
Having a non-profit, member funded, health plan that anyone can buy into, may still be a great option for those who choose it. Some people don't want to have to pay for a government-run, public health care system with their tax dollars. Those people are in luck. They won't have to.