For me, though, the most tell-tale sign of the public plan’s demise came from Families USA executive director Ron Pollack, the cheerleader-in-chief for health reform. After his consumer advocacy group climbed into bed with Big PhRMA, Pollack said that while a public plan is “important,” the “key ingredients in making health coverage affordable are addressed through what we’re talking about.” Among Pollack’s key ingredients: expanding Medicaid, giving families subsidies to buy insurance in the private market, insurance market reforms and limiting out of pocket expenses.

Another important clue came from one of my good, reliable sources, who said that an AARP lobbyist told her that the public plan was simply something to be traded away.

The saga of the public plan is a story of the lobbying might of health care interests, indecisiveness on the part of the president, and the reluctance of the press to stitch all the pieces together. But there’s still a chance for redemption. Not much has been said or written about what’s left if the public plan vanishes—the individual mandate that will require every American (with few exceptions) to carry insurance.

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Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.