Former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary and Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt warned yesterday that a public health insurance option in any comprehensive health reform would be the “Trojan horse” that would force Americans into a single-payer health system.

Proponents for a public health insurance plan, which has been suggested to be modeled after Medicare, employ “a real clever use of language,” using words like “choice” and “competition” when discussing the plan, Leavitt said in a conference call — one of his first commentaries since leaving the federal health agency that runs Medicare, Medicaid and other public health programs. “But it shouldn’t be called a public option; it should be called a government option,” he said.

Leavitt, who also released an op-ed today, echoed results from a leading health-care consulting firm that a public health insurance plan “would be a gateway to 118 million Americans losing options and real choice in their health care.”

“So why would it be bad if people opted for a public plan,” Leavitt asked rhetorically during the conference call. “Well [proponents] suffer under the illusion that Medicare is run more efficiently than private health insurance. We issue more checks but the efficiency of health care shouldn’t be measured in the volume of [reimbursement] checks you administer. It should be in the value of care you provide,” Leavitt said.

During his tenure at HHS, Leavitt said Medicare has been “uncoordinated” in its delivery of health care to America’s elderly and disabled, and moving the nation closer to bankruptcy. “The current economic problems may be an earthquake, but [the financial strains that are] coming with Medicare are a tsunami.”

To avoid leading America’s health care sector toward the pitfalls of a single-payer system while implementing real reform, Leavitt highlighted alternatives that Heritage policy analysts have been advocating:

“There is a clear role for government in health care reform, but it should not be the voice that substitutes American consumers who are armed with information about costs and quality options in their health care,” Leavitt added.