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Medicare Part E: Everybody
Let's use Medicare, which nearly every American understands. Just create "Medicare Part E" where the "E" represents "everybody." Just let any citizen in the US buy into Medicare.
It would be so easy. No need to reinvent the wheel with this so-called "public option" that's a whole new program from the ground up. Medicare already exists. It works. Some people will like it, others won't - just like the Post Office versus FedEx analogy the President is so comfortable with.
Just pass a simple bill - it could probably be just a few lines, like when Medicare was expanded to include disabled people - that says that any American citizen can buy into the program at a rate to be set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which reflects the actual cost for us to buy into it.
Thus, Medicare Part E would be revenue neutral!
To make it available to people of low income, Congress could raise the rates slightly for all currently non-eligible people (like me - under 65) to cover the cost of below-200%-of-poverty people. Revenue neutral again.
This blows up all the rumors about death panels and grandma and everything else: everybody knows what Medicare is. Those who scorn it can go with United Healthcare and it's $100 million/year CEO. Those who like Medicare can buy into Part E. Simplicity itself.
Of course, we'd like a few fixes, like letting negotiate drug prices, and fill some of the other holes Republicans and AARP and the big insurance lobbyists have drilled into Medicare so people have to buy "supplemental" insurance, but that can wait for the second round. Let's get this done first.
Simple stuff. Medicare for anybody who wants it. Private health insurance for those who don't. Easy message. Even Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley can understand it. Sarah Palin can buy into it, or ignore it. No death panels, no granny plugs, nothing. Just a few sentences.
Replace the "you must be disabled or 65" with "here's what it'll cost if you want to buy in, and here's the sliding scale of subsidies we'll give you if you're poor, paid for by everybody else who's buying in." This creates Part E.
And if this fails - if the Congress can't get out from under their corporate overlords - at the very least pass the Kucinich amendment that will allow individual states to create their own single-payer systems, as was done in Canada a generation ago.