Bill O'Reilly, Communist?

The Fox News host seems to favor at least some parts of the Democratic healthcare reform plans

Published September 18, 2009 2:35PM (EDT)

It seems silly even to imagine that a Fox News host could actually endorse a public option for health insurance, especially not if that host is Bill O'Reilly. But that's what O'Reilly at least appeared to be doing on his show earlier this week.

It happened when O'Reilly was talking with Nina Owcharenko, the deputy director of health policy studies for the conservative Heritage Foundation:

OWCHARENKO: Well, it has massive new federal regulation. So you don't necessarily need a public option if the federal government is going to control and regulate the type of health insurance that Americans can buy.

O'REILLY: I want that. I want that. I want, not personally for me, but for working Americans to have an option that, if they don't like their health insurance, if it's too expensive, they can't afford it, if the government can cobble together a cheaper insurance policy that gives the same benefits, I see that as a plus for the folks.

That's the snippet going around liberal blogs. The discussion immediately preceding that, though, makes things less clear, and makes it seem as if O'Reilly didn't really mean to endorse the public option:

OWCHARENKO: It has the same fundamental problems as the other bills making their way through Congress have. It's got a public plan. Baucus just calls it a co-opt. It's got massive federal regulation over insurance and benefits. A massive Medicaid expansion and an employer mandate and an individual mandate. Those are the structural flaws that all the bills carry and that actually break the promises that the president has said that he would not -- he would do for the American people.

O'REILLY: All right. So, from your vantage point, the new health- care thing, it's the same, you know, meet the old bosses, The Who once sang, -- new boss is the same as the old boss. Is it there anything good of this Bill, anything that caught your eye that would help the American people?

OWCHARENKO: Well, I think that they're trying to focus on bringing down the cost. But that's where they get into trouble. The more they bring down the cost, the harder it is to deliver what they promised to the American people. And in reality, an eight-hundred billion-dollar Bill is not that much different from $1 trillion, in my opinion.

O'REILLY: OK. So you didn't see, really, anything there that you can get excited about or the American people should pay attention to. The public option now is done. We've discussed this. It's not going to happen. But you say that this little marketplace that they're going to set up, whereby the federal government would subsidize some insurance for Americans, that is, in your opinion, a public option?

That sounds more like what O'Reilly meant to endorse was the idea of an insurance exchange, which is a key part of the Democratic proposals. He may just be confused about it, though -- the exchange isn't really a way of subsidizing healthcare in the way he said; instead, it's a market that's intended to, among other things, bring down costs for small businesses and individuals by pooling them and increasing their buying power. Either way, of course, O'Reilly did seem to be breaking with his colleagues, not to mention the right as a whole.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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