What’s worse than the public option? No public option, argues Michael F. Cannon, health policy analyst at the Cato Institute:

[T]here are essentially two parts to the health care bills moving through Congress: an individual mandate that would effectively nationalize health care, and a government-run program that would explicitly nationalize it slowly, over time.

Cannon’s got a cynical explanation for Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid’s sudden embrace of a government-run health insurance company (Cannon calls it “Fannie Med”): Reid needs to get re-elected next year, and maybe ultra-liberal Nevadans can give him a boost. Reid, of course, says a public option is what Americans want.

But a third explanation, not inconsistent with the others, is that the savvier Democrats know that all they need to nationalize health care is an individual mandate.  So they’ll let Fannie Med take a beating, and then pass the more sweeping individual mandate when opponents are too exhausted and distracted by their “victory” over Fannie Med to notice.

Oh, and here’s why the individual mandate–forcing everyone to buy health insurance–is an even quicker route to nationalized health care than the public option:

Compulsory health insurance could require nearly 100 million Americans to switch to a more expensive health plan and would therefore violate President Barack Obama’s pledge to let people keep their current health insurance. In particular, the legislation before Congress could eliminate many or all health savings account plans. Making health insurance compulsory would also spark an unnecessary fight over abortion and would enable government to ration care to those with private health insurance.

Obama adviser Larry Summers writes that mandates “are like public programs financed by benefit taxes,” meaning that compulsory health insurance would also violate President Obama’s promise not to increase taxes on the middle class. Under the House Democrats’ legislation, some middle-income earners would face marginal tax rates over 50 percent (before state taxes).

The experience in Massachusetts belies the claim that compulsory health insurance brings down health care costs. The “shared responsibility” ruse allows Massachusetts politicians to declare success for a compulsory health insurance scheme whose actual costs reveal it to be a failure. Massachusetts also demonstrates that compulsory health insurance enables, and ultimately requires, politicians and government bureaus to control nearly all aspects of health care and medical practice.

See? With the public option, it would take time for the government to starve out private insurance coverage and start running everyone’s health lives. With the individual mandate–instant government control!