Between the Waves: Building Power for a Public Option


Jacob S. Hacker

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Hacker, Jacob S. (2021). Between the Waves: Building Power for a Public Option. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, 46 (4): 535–547. DOI:10.1215/03616878-8970739.
Given the close division of power in Washington, DC, how might health reformers pursue their bolder aims? In particular, how might they pursue the robust public option that was a centerpiece of Joe Biden's health plan during the campaign? This new iteration of the public option—far more ambitious than anything seriously considered during the debate over the ACA—is not in the cards right now. But instead of giving up on it, advocates should recast it in an inspiring vision that can structure immediate initiatives designed to make its achievement more feasible. This strategy, which might be called “building power through policy,” would involve using the openings for policy change that are likely to exist in the near term to reshape the political landscape for the long term. Three interim steps in particular could advance the public option's prospects: (1) pursuing immediate improvements in the ACA that are tangible and traceable yet do not work against the eventual creation of a public option, (2) building the necessary foundations for a public option within Medicare while encouraging progressive states to experiment with state public plan models, and (3) seeding and strengthening movements to press for more fundamental reform.
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