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Obama renews push for a public option in unexpected forum

The public option largely disappeared from the policy debate in recent years, but with a new Democratic push, it's back in a big way.
President Barack Obama returns via the Marine One helicopter to the White House in Washington, June 2, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
President Barack Obama returns via the Marine One helicopter to the White House in Washington, June 2, 2016.
Readers of the Journal of the American Medical Association (or JAMA) probably expect to read articles from medical professionals. As Reuters reported, the new issue includes a piece from a very high-profile author from an entirely different field.

President Barack Obama urged Congress on Monday to reconsider offering a government-run health insurance option alongside private plans on the exchanges created as part of his national healthcare law. In an article published in the online edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Obama said the Affordable Care Act had made much progress toward improving access to healthcare and the quality and affordability of care.

The entirety of the article is online here -- Obama is the first sitting president to be published in JAMA -- and it covers quite a bit of ground. The piece touts the ACA's many successes, while also presenting a variety of ideas about possible improvements.
But in terms of basic political salience, Obama's renewed support for a public option is probably the most notable thing in his JAMA piece. "[B]ased on experience with the ACA, I think Congress should revisit a public plan to compete alongside private insurers in areas of the country where competition is limited," the president wrote.
And if you feel like you've been hearing quite a bit more about the public option lately, after years of relative silence, it's not your imagination.
Let's back up for a minute for those who may not remember what this idea is all about. Revisiting our previous coverage, during the fight to pass health care reform in 2009 and 2010, one of the most widely discussed aspects of Obama's plan was something known as the "public option." The idea, which polls showed was quite popular, was to create a public, non-profit health insurer that would compete with private insurance companies for consumers' business, along the lines of the educational model in which public and private universities compete in the same space.
The policy was poised to be part of the Affordable Care Act, but it was ultimately killed by one man, then-Sen. Joe Lieberman, who vowed to join a Republican filibuster and destroy the entire reform effort if the public option was included in the final package. Left with no choice, reform advocates relented.
As it turns out, the measure's demise six years ago wasn't permanent. Hillary Clinton's campaign has voiced support for the measure repeatedly in recent months, and the presumptive Democratic nominee reiterated her position over the weekend to help shore up support from Bernie Sanders.
Obviously, a Republican Congress, which is obsessed with the idea of destroying "Obamacare" and everything in it, will never consider a progressive policy like this one. But this renewed push for a public option serves as a reminder that in Democratic politics, the idea never really went away,  and if a President Hillary Clinton has an opportunity to work with a Democratic Congress, this measure -- which is scored by the CBO as a cost-saver, thanks to increased competition -- will be a leading priority.