If Democrats want to hold on to their majorities in Congress, they have to pass healthcare reform legislation that would take effect and insure Americans by July 1 of 2010, former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean said Wednesday.

Dean, a medical doctor and healthcare reform activist, said that if healthcare legislation is passed but isn’t implemented until after the election, Republicans would be able to capitalize.

"If you pass the bill and it [doesn't take affect until] by 2013, you're going to have all the bogeymen out there—the death panels, rationing, you can't see your doctor and all of this stuff—and you're going to have nothing in anybody's experience that counter acts that," Dean said at a healthcare round table hosted by Politics magazine.

Throughout the event, Dean expressed his support for a public option—or government run insurance program—to be included in the bill. As he has said previously, insurance companies are designed to maximize their profit, at times at the expense of the consumer. The only way to insure a level playing field, Dean reasoned, is to give Americans the choice of a government sponsored plan that is not profit driven.

In order to have a program in place by July 1 of next year, Dean recommended expanding Medicare. "That's the only way you can deliver healthcare to everyone by 2010," he said.

"You can't invent a new system under [Health and Human Services], which has never run a bureaucracy, then expect it to work in any reasonable way," he added. "So if the Democrats finally figure out that they want to survive the midterm elections, their public option would be allowing a certain proportion - whatever you deem appropriate, financially viable and yet politically viable - a certain mass but not so many people that you can't manage the system" to enroll in Medicare.

After the forum, which was co-hosted by Pharmacy Times and The American Journal of Managed Care, Dean told Politics that Democrats will only benefit electorally if voters have experienced healthcare benefits from an implemented reform plan.

"By Election Day people need to have the discussion over the kitchen table—the mythical Washington kitchen table—about health insurance in a rational way," he said. "And that is not going to happen—I don't care who says what in what kind of TV ads—until people actually experience it."

"Once you get people who are actually insured, all of the myths go away," he also said. "They need to know someone—either themselves, a member of their family or somebody else casually—who is insured because of what Barack Obama and the Congress has done."

Jeremy P. Jacobs is the staff writer at Politics. He can be reached at jjacobs@politicsmagazine.com