For an eloquent statement of what I have been trying to say for the last few days, have a look at this essay by Yale University Political Science Professor Jacob Hacker. Hacker is generally considered the father of the public option. In his view, the Senate health care bill still does more good than harm, and provides a needed platform for future reforms:
As weak as it is in numerous areas, the Senate bill contains three vital reforms. First, it creates a new framework, the “exchange,” through which people who lack secure workplace coverage can obtain the same kind of group health insurance that workers in large companies take for granted. Second, it makes available hundreds of billions in federal help to allow people to buy coverage through the exchanges and through an expanded Medicaid program. Third, it places new regulations on private insurers that, if properly enforced, will reduce insurers’ ability to discriminate against the sick and to undermine the health security of Americans.
These are signal achievements, and they all would have been politically unthinkable just a few years ago.
To be sure, the bill also contains a requirement on individuals to have coverage, which has become the main target of criticism from the left. Without the public option, this mandate amounts to forcing people to buy private insurance without creating an affordable public alternative with which insurers must compete.
But the correct response to this critique is to make the requirement less necessary by providing greater assistance with the cost of premiums and by facilitating enrollment in the exchange–in other words, by making coverage more attractive and easier to obtain.
Well said. You should go read the rest of the essay. It is the best short summary I have seen of the strengths and weaknesses of the Senate bill.