In August, I attended a briefing on health care by one of the higher-ups at USPIRG. His basic point was that the public option is not the end in itself, but a vehicle to facilitate the other reforms that they want to see. A strong public option in addition to measures that bring down the cost of health care for everyone would be ideal, but if the reforms are mandated without a public option, they could live with it.
The reforms in the current bill aren't as far-reaching as they would be in an ideal world, and the public option has been thoroughly neutered. The public option has become a symbol to the left wing of the Democratic party, but that is its primary value. It might be better for Democrats from a political perspective to pass a bill with something called a public option in it. It would energize the currently lethargic Democratic base, certainly helping the Dems in 2010. But from a policy perspective, if losing the public option would allow Congress to improve key parts of the bill, like subsidies for low-income folks, changing the incentives for providers and comparative effectiveness research for Medicare payments, it will probably be a better bill in the end.
It's depressing to think that all those doors we knocked on didn't get us a public option, but the reality is that this may in fact be a better bill without it.