Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich is pulling no punches in his criticism of the health-care reform “deal” that has reportedly been reached by Senate Democratic negotiators.

“I’m here to tell you that this is no deal: it’s a gift to Big Insurance, plain and simple,” says Reich, one of his party’s and the nation’s most noted economic analysts and social reformers.

As senators prepared for a weekend of wrangling over the plan that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, touts as a breakthrough in the year-long health-care debate, Reich declared that: “The details are sketchy. The only thing that’s really clear is the deal would drop the public option from the bill. With no public option, there’s no guarantee of real competition. And without real competition, health care costs will continue to be out of control.”

Reich warns that progressives who embrace the Senate deal on the theory that it is “better than nothing” could end up “giving away the store (to the insurance industry) without getting anything in return.”

The former labor secretary’s analysis is spot on:

Here’s what we do know (about the deal): First, it might allow some 55-64 year-olds to buy into Medicare. Second, it might allow those without employer health insurance to buy private insurance the way federal employees do.

So what’s the problem here? A system of only private insurers simply will not control costs. Without competition from a public option, insurance companies have no incentive to compete–just like now.

Enlarging Medicare is no answer. The Senate bill slows Medicare’s costs only if they’re rising faster than total health spending. But with private insurers running the show, total health spending will still be out of control. Plus, we have no idea how many people might be allowed to buy into Medicare, or if it will be even close to affordable for them.

Health care reform must include a strong public option. It’s key to controlling costs, expanding coverage, and forcing Big Insurance to compete. Without it, we’ll end up with a national health care system controlled by a handful of very large corporations accountable neither to American voters nor to the market. And that is not even close to real health care reform.

Reich is still holding out hope for real reform — or at least for a reform that includes a credible public option.

To get it, he’s urging voters to “generate a massive outcry” that will inspire progressive leaders in Congress fight the compromise.

Reich is urging support for a petition to Democratic leaders in Congress that declares: “You must make sure health care reform includes a real public option–it’s what the majority of Americans want. Anything less is a gift to Big Insurance.”