The Washington Post editorializes today:
Of the many possible issues that could snarl health-care reform, one of the biggest is whether the measure should include a government-run health plan to compete with private insurers. The public plan has become an unfortunate litmus test for both sides. The opposition to a public plan option is understandable; conservatives, health insurers, health-care providers and others see it as a slippery step down the slope to a single-payer system because, they contend, the government’s built-in advantages will allow it to unfairly squash competitors.
For liberals, labor unions and others pushing to make health care available to all Americans, however, the fixation on a public plan is bizarre and counterproductive. Their position elevates the public plan way out of proportion to its importance in fixing health care. It is entirely possible to imagine effective health-care reform — changes that would expand coverage and help control costs — without a public option.
Heritage research on the public plan option: