December 10th, 2009
03:40 PM ET
9 months ago

Pelosi signals openness to health care bill without public option

HHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled her willingness Thursday to consider a health care bill that lacks a government-run public health insurance option.
HHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled her willingness Thursday to consider a health care bill that lacks a government-run public health insurance option.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled her willingness Thursday to consider a health care bill that lacks a government-run public health insurance option.

Pelosi has previously insisted the public option was necessary for House approval of a health care bill. Last month, the House passed its version of the sweeping health care measure that includes the public option.

However, Senate Democrats agreed this week on a tentative deal to drop the public option from their health care bill in order to ensure the measure can pass the chamber.

Under a proposed alternative, the Senate bill would permit private insurers to offer non-profit coverage overseen by the government and expand the Medicare program for senior citizens to allow people as young as 55 to buy in.

Pelosi, D-California, at her weekly news conference said she wants to get the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Senate alternative before judging it, but she opened the door to a final bill without the public option.

"We in the House believe that the public option is the best way to keep insurance companies honest and also to increase competition," Pelosi said, adding: "If you have a better way, put it on the table."

With President Barack Obama supporting the Senate alternative, Pelosi's openness to consider it represents a potential major step toward eventual passage of a health care bill by Congress.

If the Senate eventually passes a health care bill, it would be merged with the House version by a conference committee. Both chambers would have to approve the final bill before it could be sent to Obama to be signed into law.

The House and Senate bills are "probably 75 percent compatible," Pelosi said, adding that a final merged bill could win approval from both chambers before Christmas if the Senate completes its work by the end of next week and a conference committee can meet over the weekend of December 19-20.

Liberal Democrats call the public option the only way to truly reform the health care system by ensuring people have access to affordable coverage and providing low-cost competition to private insurers.

Republicans and some moderate Democrats consider the public option an unnecessary federal intrusion in health care that could lead to an eventual government takeover of the system.

The House narrowly passed its health care bill last month, and the Senate is in the second week of debate on its version. Senate Democrats need all 60 votes in their caucus to overcome a Republican filibuster to pass the bill, and some senators in the Democratic caucus have rejected the public option.

Democratic sources said the Senate deal reached Tuesday night includes proposals to replace the public option by creating a not-for-profit private insurance option overseen by the Office of Personnel Management, much like the current health plan for federal workers, along with the Medicare expansion.

A Democratic source with knowledge of the deal said the alternative also includes a "trigger" mechanism that would create a public option in the future if the non-profit private alternatives fail to effectively expand coverage and bring down costs. However, the source said the trigger provision was tentative for now, based on whether moderates opposed to a public option would accept it.

Pelosi said he had yet to see details of the Senate plan. She listed essential elements for passing a health care bill, including making coverage more affordable for middle-class Americans, sustaining the solvency of the Medicare program for senior citizens while eliminating a gap in their prescription drug coverage, no deficit increase and holding insurance companies accountable.

"What I have said, as I've always said to my members, give the Senate room," Pelosi said, adding, "We will know a great deal more when the paper comes back from the Congressional Budget Office. But seeing their bill and our bill, I know one thing for sure - we'll have a great bill when we put them together."

In particular, the idea of expanding Medicare to those 55 and older was appealing, Pelosi told reporters after the briefing.

Obama said Wednesday that the Senate agreement created "a new framework that I believe will help pave the way for final passage" of what he called historic health care reform legislation.

"I support this effort, especially since it's aimed at increasing choice and competition and lowering cost," Obama said.

However, the American Medical Association and American Hospital Association both told CNN Wednesday they oppose the Medicare expansion provision in the Senate package.

"We are extremely concerned about the approach because it removes people from the private sector and puts them in government care, which is chronically underfunded," said Alicia Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the hospital association.

In addition, two moderate Democratic senators who took part in the talks said the package must first be analyzed by the CBO before anyone can claim a final agreement.

"There is not specific compromise. Those were discussions," Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, told reporters.

Some liberals also had reservations. Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, one of 10 Democratic senators involved in talks on the deal, said he had concerns about the lack of a public option to ensure affordable coverage for those younger than 55 and therefore ineligible for the Medicare expansion.

Two senators who oppose a public option, moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, said they were open to the non-profit private alternative in the deal.

"It can be an innovative approach," said Snowe, considered perhaps the lone GOP senator who might support the health care bill. "I just would need to understand more about how it would work."

Lieberman, a member of the Democratic caucus who has said he would join a Republican filibuster if the health care bill contained a public option, called the alternative "an idea worth considering, so long as it remains private insurance companies that would be essentially regulated by OPM."

However, Lieberman and Snowe expressed concern over the idea of allowing Americans 55 or older to buy into Medicare.

"I want to make sure we're not adding a big additional burden to the Medicare program, which we need to figure out how to save, because it's going bankrupt," Lieberman said.

Updated: 3:40 p.m.

–CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this story.


Filed under: Democrats • Health care • Nancy Pelosi
soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. aware

    Sell your soul for an American dictatorship madam P! :(

    December 10, 2009 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  2. Fitz in Texas

    This is a bunch of bull and only an idiot would believe Pelosi. There is NO WAY Pelosi, Reid or Obama are going to give up the public option. They will get it in there one way or the other and call it something else other than "public option." Sheesh, can these people ever tell the truth?

    December 10, 2009 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  3. www.circleparkforum.com

    The title of this article should be:

    Pelosi signals the stunning defeat of Democrats – who have failed the American people – in next Nov's midterm elections.

    December 10, 2009 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  4. godsaidha

    So the Dems wimp out again.

    Why bother, then?

    December 10, 2009 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  5. Sheesh

    You watch - the Dems compromise on this, & next the GOPs and Blue Dogs will be demonizing something else about the health care bill. After all, they have to pipe the tune of their corporate masters.

    December 10, 2009 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  6. Martha

    Pelosi, they do put it on the table, you just don't want to hear it!
    Just like you don't want to hear that WE DO NO WANT THE GOVERNMENT TO RUN ANY KIND OF HEALTHCARE. PERIOD.
    MARTHA.

    December 10, 2009 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  7. Reggie

    Pelosi is such a disaster for the democrats. It's such a shame the voters in her extremely liberal district continue to reelect her.

    December 10, 2009 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  8. aware

    The moral imparative is freedom not enslavement to big government! :(

    December 10, 2009 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    No public option = horrible election cycle for the Dems in 2010. GUARANTEED. They're responding to the noisiest and richest people in the country, not the most informed and rational.

    December 10, 2009 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  10. Right wingnuts are as dumb as a woonsocket

    Lieberman, along with the republicans, will not stand up to the big health insurance industry. For Joe and "No!", it is not about what would help Americans, but what is best for them financially.

    December 10, 2009 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  11. conservatives are useless

    public option or you will be voted out

    December 10, 2009 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  12. j

    Sounds like they're all going to cave-in to lobbyist and insurance companies. If they're not going to have a public option then they should put the antitrust measures back in.

    I don't agree with the mandate portion of the legislation. Every time Congress tries to make something "better", they just end up making things worse.

    December 10, 2009 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  13. steve

    Warning to Democrats:
    There is an online war going on to depress your enthusiasm regarding the compromised senate health care bill by republicans.
    This army of paid republican pretends to be progressives and would criticize / smear the bill under consideration. Progressives in this country should be rejoicing in this final bill and support it. Don`t be fooled by paid republican commenters all over the blogs e.g huffington post.

    December 10, 2009 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  14. debbie

    Yet she won't let others put it on the table..once again talking out both sides of her mouth!!!

    December 10, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  15. www.circleparkforum.com

    Pelosi signals the stunning defeat of Democrats – WHO HAVE FAILED THE AMERICAN PEOPLE – in next Nov's midterm elections.

    Don't forget to delete the next email you get from Obama asking for money to help him blow you off in favor of private insurers and other corporate interests.

    Obama: Shameless failure.

    Reid: Shameless failure.

    Pelosi: Shameless failure.

    December 10, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  16. victim of the false prophet OBAMA

    Retreat-Retreat-Retreat...it seems America does not want our liberal socialist programs.

    December 10, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  17. Patriot Guy

    If health INSURANCE reform does make it to the president's desk, it is going to be completely cosmetic changes......which is probably a good thing.

    December 10, 2009 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  18. Mike

    Time to get this HealthCare Bill passed. Without the public option but with the option to buy into Medicare at 55 – sounds good – Probably better than a public option.

    December 10, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  19. Matt

    Go ahead, No public option = no more cash or votes from this dem!

    December 10, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  20. yeah

    no public option = dems lose, american people lose, GOP wins, insurance companies win. once again dems cant work together to get anything done, they cant even beat the reps when they are at thier weakest. pathetic. Im tired of every other developed nation having public healthcare except the US.

    December 10, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  21. Janet

    I signal an openness to a new Congress without Pelosi. See it works both ways Nancy.

    December 10, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  22. mjm

    "We in the House believe that the public option is the best way to keep insurance companies honest and also to increase competition," Pelosi said, adding: "If you have a better way, put it on the table."

    Medicare rates have gone up just as fast than private insurance. Medicare premiums were $58/month in 2004, now the same person pays $120. Apparently Medicare does not keep the cost of health care down, neither will a public option.

    Now they want dramatically increase the amount of people eligible for Medicare.....As if the goal was to destroy it faster.

    December 10, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  23. Ben in Texas

    Oh, I can also agree to "no public option". If you just take away the platinum plated health insurance enjoyed by House and Senate and President and Supreme Court and let them buy on the open market, too. And take away that socialist free health care enjoyed by the military, and drop Medicare, and let us all be at the mercy of insurance companies. I can go with that. That would be the easiest route to a universal single payer system, which is the only way to solve the mess we're in.

    While you're caving in to the right wing, Ms. Pelosi, how about re-instituting the draft, so that there will be plenty of cannon fodder for their next war? Will it be Iran or North Korea? This time, though, let's not open any loopholes like the one Cheney fell through, five times. Let's start by drafting Cheney's kids, in fact, to make up for that chicken hawk family's failure to serve this country.

    December 10, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  24. Clint

    If you fold on the public option, you might as well just give up and let the health insurance, pharmaceutical and DME companies and their lobbyists and purchased GOP legislators have an early Christmas. Show some leadership or get out of the way.

    December 10, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  25. Jason

    Just because the party of lies doesn't call it the 'Public Option' doesn't mean it isn't in the bill.

    We simply cannot trust the most corrupt party in History, currently in power, to take on a bill of this magnitude!

    December 10, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
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