October 22nd, 2009
09:25 PM ET
11 years ago

Senate Democrats look at adding public option to health care bill

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Senate Democratic leaders met Thursday night with White House officials to consider including a government-funded public health insurance option, along with a provision allowing states to opt out of it, in a health care overhaul bill.

Two senior Democratic Senate sources told CNN that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is leaning toward a public option with the state opt-out provision in the Senate health care bill that will reach the full chamber in coming weeks.

According to one source familiar with the White House meeting, the matter was discussed with President Barack Obama but no decisions were made.

Republicans and some moderate Democrats oppose a public option, threatening the chances for a bill that includes the provision to get the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Senate filibuster.

The state opt-out provision is considered a possible way to get moderate Democrats to support a bill with a public option. However, the spokesman for Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, a key moderate, said Nelson opposes the idea of a national public option with an opt-out for the states.

In addition, the idea is opposed by Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, the only Republican to support any kind of health care proposal so far. Snowe's spokesman, John Gentzel, confirmed to CNN her opposition to the modified public option.

Obama and Democratic leaders say the non-profit public option will bring competition to the health insurance industry and lower costs while expanding access to Americans currently without coverage.

Republican opponents contend a public option would drive private insurers from the market and lead to an eventual government takeover of the health care system.

Of five health care bills approved so far by House and Senate committees, four include a public option. The other bill, from the Senate Finance Committee, includes non-profit cooperatives instead of a public option and is the proposal supported by Snowe.

In recent days, two administration officials have told CNN that the prevailing White House opinion is for the Senate health care bill to include a so-called "trigger" mechanism proposed by Snowe that would bring a public option in the future if thresholds for expanding coverage and lowering costs go unmet in coming years.

The source familiar with Thursday evening's meeting said Obama "pushed for a so-called trigger, because it's the more bipartisan way to go," due to Snowe's support for the concept. A critical White House goal in passing a health care bill is the ability to call it bipartisan, so Obama officials are wary of doing anything to alienate Snowe.

Also Thursday, 36 moderate House Democrats threatened to vote against the current health care bill the chamber's leaders are drafting because they don't believe it will sufficiently reduce long-term health care costs.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, the fiscally conservative Democrats cited recent testimony by Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf that indicated health care costs under the House legislation could rise after 10 years.

Elmendorf "has already indicated that the bill does nothing to rein in the costs of health care, and therefore may not be sustainable outside the 10-year budget window," the letter said.

"We will be unable to support any health care legislation that doesn't meet the president's goals of driving down and holding down the cost of health care, as determined by" the CBO, the letter concluded.

A Democratic leadership aide told CNN that final analysis from the Congressional Budget Office will be crucial to passing a bill in the House.

"If we do not get a reasonable sort of indication from CBO that we're going to bend it, that will be a problem," the aide said of lowering costs in the future.

House Democratic leaders learned earlier this week that the CBO projected their bill would cost $871 billion over 10 years and also reduce the deficit during that time. But the CBO was unable to assess what the impact would be in the next 10 years.

Moderate Democrats have asked leaders for details about the long-term costs from CBO, but no final analysis has yet been released.

Rep. John Barrow of Georgia, a leader of the fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats, initiated the letter because "the question of cost isn't one that should be swept under the rug," said Barrow's spokesperson, Jane Brodsky.

Updated: 9:25 p.m.

–CNN's Dana Bash and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this story.

Filed under: Democrats • Health care • Obama administration • Olympia Snowe • Senate
soundoff (116 Responses)
  1. DJ

    It's about time...grow a spine and stand-up for the public option.

    October 22, 2009 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  2. Meka

    After all, President Obama is trying to HELP AMERICANS . . . not take us to War!

    October 22, 2009 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  3. T'SAH from Virginia

    PLEASE hurry up and include the PUBLIC OPTION so this bill will PASS and go on the BACK BURNER so that other issues will come to the surface that I KNOW our President is handling but you have some HEAD STRONG and DEAD WRONG far right Party of NO REPUBLI-CAN'T fools like CHENEY calling our Presiddent SCARED and not being able to handle Afghanistan!!!

    We want the PUBLIC OPTION and we need to show AMERICA that we – as DEMOCRATS are STRONG and can get things done!!!!

    October 22, 2009 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  4. Frank, Las Vegas

    Don't just look at adding it, DO IT. Vote for Medicare Part E (Medicare for Everyone) Now!

    October 22, 2009 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  5. We Can Do This

    Dems are the majority. Grow a spine, put the public option in the bill with NO opt out for states.

    October 22, 2009 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  6. Jayden,FL

    They must add a public option! the majority of the country wants a public option!

    October 22, 2009 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  7. John

    Let's Go Democrats!! I'am with you all the way, Good Luck!

    October 22, 2009 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  8. America is getting better

    Finally – the people have spoken and we are starting to move this effort in the right direction. The current system has people locked in and afraid. You can't fully pursue your dreams and maximize your contribution to our country and our economy if you are handcuffed to your job by your health insurance. We must separate health care from employment, period!

    October 22, 2009 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  9. Grrr-awful-o

    It's only a matter of time and strategy before we have a single payer (ie. single point of control) for health care. For those of you who earn enough to take care of yourselves, kiss good healthcare goodbye. You can tell your grandkids about it someday. For those of you that prefer to "ask what your country can do for you", congratulations. I'll leave my wallet where you can steal it.

    October 22, 2009 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  10. We Won Get Over It

    Read where Max Baucus got Harry Reid in a closed room and went absolutely positively ballistic. They thought he was going to have a stroke and wanted to know if he needed medical attention.

    I suppose he saw all those extra millions he was expecting from the insurance companies slipping away. I heard he had already gotten 1.5 million. Guess it doesn't make any difference that you were elected to serve the public, all you do when you get in is serve yourself and your rich masters.

    October 22, 2009 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  11. Matthew

    People that think that this overhaul of the healthcare system are delusional. First of all, it doesn't give everyone healthcare (2/3s of those not covered still won't be covered). Second, it has already raised taxes and will most likely continue to need to find revenue streams–more taxes. Third, the 'reforms' really don't make healthcare more affordable, but subsidize it with taxpayer money.

    Fix Medicare and Medicaid before you take on the care for over 300 M people and 20% for the economy.

    October 22, 2009 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |

    Bring it on! We need a strong public option in the healthcare overhaul.

    October 22, 2009 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  13. eolufemi

    Exhilarating stuff!!!!

    They are going to have to give up a lot to get conservative democrats on-board.

    I wonder what pork they are angling for...

    October 22, 2009 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  14. vic nashville , Tn

    No health care reform without public option

    October 22, 2009 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  15. JCQueipo

    There is only one way to do it Right !! Offering a public option.

    October 22, 2009 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  16. Jerry from Indiana

    Hey lets do it hate crimes more bills to make all those in our country who feel less now we will give you more. When will this madness stop and when in GOD's name we will start to take care of our own problems.

    Health care for all yes that is it let us make sure even those who do not pay a thing into the system get theirs. Oh and let us not forget that we can even more money from other countries all we have to do is sale our soul "you know our countries future", but who cares that is today we can not see the future.


    October 22, 2009 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  17. Scott, Tucson

    The fun starts now as these democratic weasels tries saving their political hides in 2010.

    October 22, 2009 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  18. NC

    Do it without Senator Snowe. Why should 1 person dictate what millions of Americans want. My gosh show some guts. If Democrats need to just let the republicans filibuster and make fools out of themselves.

    October 22, 2009 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  19. phoenix86

    Incredible that the democrats are intent on ignoring and brushing aside the majority of Americans. Never has such disregard for the voters been on such display.

    Americans need to realize that the democrats cannot be trusted in any way. Joe Wilson's "you lie" could be applied to the entire democratic party.

    October 22, 2009 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  20. bam

    With polls showing that the majority of American people want a Public Option, and individual states having the right to opt out of such a plan, and the CBO confirming that it will pay for itself, are there any remaining justifications for obstructing its creation?? Well, there are the millions of dollars of bribes from the insurance industry.

    October 22, 2009 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  21. malclave

    Why is it called an "option" anyway, since the whole purpose is to lead to government mandates and control of the healthcare system?

    October 22, 2009 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  22. Rob in Charleston, SC

    Half of America does not know what is best for them; that is why we elect these people. In years to come, the very ones who think the Obama administration is doing wrong, will wake up and smell the new world around them.

    I voted for Obama, and I will vote for him again.

    October 22, 2009 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  23. Ed Cruz

    The only option that any party needs to add to health care is that every American has exactly the same benefits that any member of Congess has for not any of the members of the government from its janitors to its President has any more rights to heath care than the rest of the American People. It is, " We the People " and "we are created equal" and we all have a right to heath care and no one even the Supreme Court is in a position to decide who does not. Money is not the decideing factor in any examination of an inalienable right. You can let the parties squabble over whether its socialism communism or capitalism but the only common denominator is we are human beings and because we live we have a right to Life and no one can determine otherwise.

    October 22, 2009 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  24. Jasmine in Germany

    Private insurers will certainly NOT be driven from the market with a public option, NOR will a public option lead to a "government takeover" of the "health care system" (for lack of better words). Again, Republican opponents are using scare tactics (or are so ignorant that they should not be representatives of the people). A public option would make health care available to all and lower costs to everyone in general. It does not make sense that a few get mega rich at the expense of the health and well-being of an entire nation. A public option is also a step forward to bring the US up to par with other industrialzed nations in the world which have a cost efficient healthy society. Health care insurance companies can all live together, whether it be super private, private, group, regular, public, social, etc. etc. They will all still profit. Point is, everyone should be insured to maintain a healthy society which is cost efficient. The GOP has got to start putting the people of this country first, not the wallets of their cronies and themselves.

    October 22, 2009 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  25. SLM

    No Public option. Credible polls show the MAJORITY of Americans are against the private option............we don't want you destroying our health care.

    October 22, 2009 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
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