- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday the Obama administration has not dropped support for a “public option” in the plan to reform health care and suggested the news media overanalyzed remarks made during the weekend.

“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,” Mrs. Sebelius said at a speech in Washington honoring senior volunteers who monitor Medicare and Medicaid fraud. “We continue to support the public option that will help lower costs, give American consumers more choice and keep private insurers honest.”

She said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that giving Americans the option to choose a government-run plan over private insurance is “not the essential element.”

Her remarks appeared to follow similar ones Saturday by President Obama.

“The public option — whether we have it or we don’t have it — is not the entirety of health care reform,” he said at a town-hall meeting in Grand Junction, Colo. “This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it.”

Mrs. Sebelius also said Tuesday the administration would be open to a Capitol Hill proposal for the reform legislation to include a nonprofit insurance cooperative.

“If people have other ideas … we’ll look at those, too,” she said. “But the public option is a very good way to do this.”

Accepting a co-op is a potential compromise to win Hill votes from Republican and conservative Democrats, but the plan does not have widespread support from leading Democrats.

Mr. Obama has made a first-year goal of cutting rising health care costs and bringing insurance to nearly 50 million Americans but has asked Congress to draft the legislation.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs also attempted Tuesday to clarify the administration’s position, following a similar attempt Monday in which he called Mr. Obama “boringly consistent” on the issue.

“His position, the administration’s position is unchanged,” Mr. Gibbs said at the daily White House press briefing. “The president prefers a public option. The president has said that for months. The secretary of health and human services has said that for months. I’ve said that for months.”

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