September 29th, 2009
11:24 AM ET
13 years ago

Senate panel debates public option proposal for health care bill

WASHINGTON (CNN) - A Senate committee debating the only compromise health care bill so far took on the most contentious issue Tuesday - whether to include a government-run public health insurance option that is opposed by Republicans and some moderate Democrats.

Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia proposed an amendment to add the public option to the proposal before the Senate Finance Committee. Another Democratic senator, Charles Schumer of New York, also was expected to propose a public option amendment.

The Finance Committee is the last congressional panel to consider health care legislation before debate begins in the full House and Senate. Democratic proposals passed by another Senate committee and three House committees all include the public insurance option.

Republicans unanimously oppose the government-run insurance option, saying it would drive private insurers from the market and eventually bring a government takeover of the health care system. Democratic leaders reject that claim, saying the public option would provide needed competition for private insurers while making health coverage accessible to millions of people currently lacking health insurance.

Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus and five other committee members - two fellow Democrats and three Republicans - negotiated the compromise proposal for months before Baucus brought the measure to the full panel. None of the three Republicans in the so-called "Gang of Six" negotiators has backed the proposal before the committee so far.

However, Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate from Maine and one of the Gang of Six negotiators, has indicated she could go along with the Finance Committee proposal if changes are made. Snowe voted with Democrats on the panel
to defeat some Republican amendments last week, when the committee began debating the proposal.

Obama and Democratic leaders, aware of a rockier political climate due to mid-term congressional elections in 2010, insist a bill must pass this year to address spiraling health care costs that are threatening economic stability.
Republicans say they agree on the need to reform aspects of the health care system, but oppose the overhaul proposed by Democrats as too comprehensive and costly.

Both parties agree on major aspects of health care reform, including a halt to insurance company practices of denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and capping the annual out-of-pocket expenses of consumers for health care. They also agree on creating incentives for preventive health care to help lower overall costs.

In efforts to bridge differences, the Finance Committee proposal dropped the public insurance option and a mandate for all employers to provide health coverage. It would require individuals to have coverage or face a fine of up to $1,900 for a family of four, but includes subsidies to help low- and middle-income Americans obtain health care plans.

The committee began debating the compromise measure last week, with contentious arguments erupting over Democratic proposals to reduce subsidies for some Medicare coverage while eliminating fraud and waste in the government health care plan for senior citizens.

Republicans argued the changes would reduce benefits for senior citizens, but Democrats say the overall effect would be minor. Some advocacy groups cite reports that the amount of money involved is no more than 5 percent of overall
Medicare spending and therefore won't adversely affect benefits for the elderly.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said the Finance Committee proposal would cost $774 billion over 10 years, but amendments adopted so far have likely increased the overall price tag. By contrast, the CBO said Democratic proposals would cost more than $1 trillion over 10 years.

In the House, Democratic leaders planned a series of meetings beginning Tuesday on merging the three versions passed out of House committees while

bringing down the overall cost by $200 billion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week she expected a final version for consideration by the full chamber soon, but she was unable to provide a specific timetable.

Fiscally-minded "Blue Dog" Democrats in the House - and conservative Democrats in the Senate - are worried about estimates of how much the plans will cost.

With prospects dim for any Republican support for a health care bill, the Democratic leadership wants to bring liberals, progressives and conservatives in their party together to use its majority in both chambers to pass a bill this year.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada needs 60 votes to overcome a possible Republican filibuster. There are 60 seats in the Democratic Senate caucus, but some are independents or moderates unlikely to support a public option or some of the most costly reforms.

Reid could implement a legislative option known as reconciliation, which would only require 51 votes to pass a health care bill. However, Republicans warn against such a move as shortsighted legislative warfare that would sow deep and long-lasting division.

Snowe has proposed a possible compromise - a "trigger" mechanism that would create a public option in the future if specific thresholds for expanded coverage and lower costs are not met. The trigger has yet to be included in any
proposal so far.

Filed under: Health care • Senate
soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. Vets4Obama

    Ok, so let me get this straight. Some morons will say "This will destroy private health insurance in this country" and in another sentence say "This is going to be a HORRIBLE system".

    Well, if the private sector can't compete against a 'horrible' system, then I really don't care if they go out of business. NOBODY should account for 15% of our economy and be unable to deal with competition entering a marketplace. That by itself tells me there is a HUGE amount of moola to be saved (15% of our economy controlled by people who can't compete with a LOUSY competitor = TONS OF SAVINGS to be made).

    Now, the fact is, it WON'T kill private insurance companies it will control them. And if it DOES ruin them...well, they deserve it. Nobody that retarded should remain in business.

    September 29, 2009 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  2. rr

    Health care is NOT a right.

    September 29, 2009 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  3. Helen, NY

    Democrats will have the problems now because American people would like to keep their current insurance coverage. We do not need public option. I am sure all these congressmen, senators and the president will have a goof lesson in the coming election. Let us throw them out. MY health is important to me and I will discuss it with my physician. I do not need Barack, never.

    September 29, 2009 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  4. single mom

    Yeah, right along with the coverage for illegal immigrants.
    Rep. Joe Wilson was right. His outburst was wrong, but he sure hit the nail on the head.

    September 29, 2009 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  5. DJ

    Throw the Neo-nuts a bone with their tort reform demand and stick with the public option. Yeah and otherwise quit backing down to the Republicans.

    September 29, 2009 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  6. Ken in Pisgah Forest

    The public option would do to insurance companies what credit unions do to banks, that is keep them competitive. It will not put them out of business any more than credit unions have driven banks out of business. Banks are still doing well despite the lower cost competition.

    This is just another Republican exageration.

    September 29, 2009 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  7. Phil

    What it boils down to is the fact that the Congressmen do not care because they will never have to use this type of insurance. They have their super cush governmental healthcare plan that we foot the bill for already. It's easy to push something on the citizens when you will not be involved with it.

    September 29, 2009 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  8. True Reformist

    Does anyone, Republican or Democrat, really believe deep down that health care in the United States will get any better by allowing private enterprise sole control. This is ludicrous!

    Now that a person's health has been deemed a commodity and his finances declared open- for- business, look out. Capitalism, in its worst form, looms ahead. And you will not be the winner.


    September 29, 2009 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  9. Lotta Muni

    Debate, Schmebate. They're going to pass this monster of a bill and we're going to pay for it for the rest of our lives and our grandchildren's lives. Instead of excercising fiscal restraint the federal deficit is spiralling out of control under Obama's administration.

    September 29, 2009 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  10. Ken in Pisgah Forest

    EIghty percent of Americans with insurance have it through their employer. This will be a thing of the past sometime in the next five years. Employers are not required to provide health insurance and they will be dropping it as the price goes up. If you have employer sponsored health insurance, you will not have it for long. If you want what you have, you will have to pay for it yourself. You may wish you had a public option when that day comes, and it is coming soon.

    WARNING: If you have employer sponsored insurance, you will not have it much longer!

    September 29, 2009 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  11. Sue

    NO Public option, the MAJORITY of Americans do NOT want it!

    September 29, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  12. RICO

    My wife works for an insurance company and guess what. They suck, we just found out that our rates are going to more than double next year, and that our deductable is going to be even higher. Great way to treat an employee. If they double their rates to their employees, what do you think they do to the average joe. All of you saying leave the system alone, wait till you get sick and have to file banckruptcy because you can't pay your medical bill due to the insurance company dropping you. Or that your employer will have to increase the amount you pay for insurance because they can't afford it anymore, or better yet drop coverage all together. Then what will happen? Answer that question? And before anyone think i'm unemployeed or dumb stuff like that I hold a pretty good paying job, and don't leech of the goverment, I just don't want in 10 years for now pay 50% of my salary to the insurance.

    September 29, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
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