Support fades for 'public option' on health care

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NBC) - In the political battle over health care reform is the so-called public option dead? Team Obama is sending mixed signals.

Conservatives are pleased. Many democrats are concerned. The fight is so close and so intense. So much is at stake, that one line with the word "sliver" in it has reshuffled the debate.

President Obama did not mention the public option Monday, as he talked health care to veterans. "No one is going to take away your benefits. That's the plain and simple truth," Obama said.

But to get benefits for the un-insured, the president had fought for government insurance. "The public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of health care reform. This is just one sliver of it," said Obama.

One sliver?  Whether we have it or not?  Conservatives are celebrating.

"The administration's hearing loud and clear that people in this country don't want a government take over of their health care," said republican Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia.

"He is back into the game because of this," said republican conservative analyst Pat Buchanan.

But many democrats insist on a government plan. "The trouble is, you really can't have reform without a public option. What a public option is - is essentially - what veterans have and what people over 65 have - it's Medicare and it works really well and its much more efficient then the private health insurance industry," said former DNC Chairman Howard Dean.

Insurance companies claim new government rules could meet the main goals:

"Getting everybody in. Insurance market reform. Subsidizing. Helping hand to working families to be sure they can afford it," said Karen Ignagni, President and CEO of America's health insurance plans.

But the public option's still the hot topic Monday at town halls. "You said people could call it what they choose to. Well, I will call it socialized medicine, because that's exactly what it is," said republican Congressman Pete Sessions of Texas.

"It's better then nothing" "What?" "I said it's better then nothing." said democratic congresswoman Bernice Johnson.

Is government coverage dead? The White House says no. But in his pro-health care reform article out Monday President Obama  never mentions the public option.