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. KD

    What is the point of having a public option if stupid Republican governors can opt out of it? All it will do is cause people to have a mass exodus out of those states to ones with the public option which would in the end bog down those states' health facilities. It isn't rocket science.

    October 22, 2009 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  2. norm

    Bill needs a public option. Just a money maker for Insurance companies without it. Dems need to grow a backbone and get it done!

    October 22, 2009 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  3. Greg, MN

    A public option is pointless. Congress needs to go back and focus on health care costs not insurance. Health insurance is a risk managment tool (by definition of insurance) it is not a health care program. This is why there are 16,000,000 young, healthy Americans who choose not to have health insurance. In their minds, the risk of expensive health issues is small. These bills force them to take coverage or pay a fine. Buy a $4,000 policy or pay a $600 fine. Hmm, what will they do? My calculations say thats about $50,000,000,000 a year that the government is counting on. Over 10 years their $874 billion plan (over 10 years) goes up to $1,374,000,000,000. A LITTLE TOO PRICEY!

    October 22, 2009 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  4. mjm

    "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."

    And they are 100% correct. The public option would destroy the health insurance industry and cost thousands of jobs. Millions of Americans would be forced to trade in their private insurance for a generic Medicaid plan that will probably go broke in 10-20 years just like Medicare is going broke.

    And it doesn't matter if the other plans have a public option. They can write any plan they want. It doesn't mean it'll pass. The Senate Finance Committee said no public option based on COST.

    No money means no public option.

    October 22, 2009 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  5. Nurma

    I am outraged that we can't all agree that a public option is the right thing, the most civilized thing to do for our country. I know socialized medicine is the dirty word of the year, but so what. Socialized medicine for all is better than private medicine for the privelaged few. I fear losing my job to disability as a nurse in a large university hospital and leaving my 4 kids and my small-business owner husband out in the cold. My parents lost their business and their home to foreclosure just short of the age of 65 and were not eligible for Medicare. Both have serious chronic health conditions that preclude them working. They were not eligible for Medicaid because they owned a car. I will be so disappointed and will lose complete faith in our government if they can't get a public option. The private sector had their chance to be competitive and will not do so unless forced. The insurance companies are nothing more than thugs that take your money for "protection" and then will do everything they can not to make good on their empty promises. Let them fail. The free market is not the answer to every social problem.

    October 22, 2009 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  6. Matt

    It isn't a public option if states make the decision for the public.

    October 22, 2009 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  7. I am the flacid and powerless wizard of Rush

    over 50 Republican members of Congress are on Medicare, a federal government socialist program.

    Why do they rant against government health insurance? Smells like . . .

    October 22, 2009 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  8. New Age Independent

    Yes to healthcare reform! NO to government run public option!

    October 22, 2009 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  9. brian

    there's no denying now that the majority of Americans want the public option, do it!

    October 22, 2009 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  10. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    The Republicans said the same thing when Medicare and Medicaid came into being. That hasn't happend yet and most likely won't happen. I kow some people who were federal employees. Their health insurance options are from a wide range of PRIVATE HEALTH INSURANCES. I don't mind the public option being triggered into existance, but it should be there in the legislation.

    October 22, 2009 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  11. Albo58

    What this administration and his drones in the Congress are failing to understand is that their party's moderates and Blue Dogs are now starting to listen and fear their constituencies! Despite what the libs and life time, social program receivers tell you, the public option is a non- starter and will be the very reason this health care reform sore continues to fester!

    October 22, 2009 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  12. A 50-year Democrat no more. Now an independent with brains.

    They better do more than that. They better take another look a t medicar. The elderly can't get physicians to accept it now. Guess what will happen when they trim what they pay the Doctors now. Your medicare will be out the window and you'll be forced into purchasing a hospital plan. This is what the ERKEL SKINNY MORON WANTS. I wish I'd never heard his stupid name.

    October 22, 2009 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  13. Ancient Texan

    Again the Lawmakers are planning to ignore the voters and cram one of their bad and budget busting bills down the publics throat. Oh well, 2010 isn't that far away. The people are fast getting enough of this nanny state approach to governing.

    October 22, 2009 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  14. ib

    This so called public option will do nothing but add more gov. controll to our lives. It should be DOA as the rest of the bill should be; we can't afford it. Obama is destroying our country with his uncontrolled spending.

    October 22, 2009 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  15. Fitz in Texas

    I just can't wait to see all these Senate Democrats get voted out in the next election....It will happen and well worth waiting for.

    October 22, 2009 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  16. g

    no pubic option =no change

    October 22, 2009 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  17. Tony

    The Republicans are the obstructionists here and if Democrats have to use reconciliation then DO IT. They've made it clear that they will not vote for a single bill President Obama supports simply for political reasons so it's time to play hardball and just get it passed. It is now clear that they (the Republicans) do not have morals as they have claimed for so long. Harry Reid, just get it done and make history.

    October 22, 2009 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  18. tarheel

    Don't worry about O. Snowe Democrats. She'll pretty much vote for anything you want to push as far as health care is concerned. You have more to worry about with your moderate And the voters Democrats than you do her. I say put the strongest public option you have in a bill and let the chips fall where they may. At least you will know then who the true blue left wing loons really are. And the voters will know who to kick out of office next year. So again I say, put that strong public option in your Health Care reform bill.

    October 22, 2009 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  19. Todd Dunn

    Snowe knew all along a public option was going to be included in the final bill. She voted for the finance bill to gain popularit among democrats. She needs to be reminded if Snowe do not vote on public option we will have a democratic senator come next election she is up. Vote now for public option or be ready to be voted out.

    October 22, 2009 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  20. Joshua College Station Texas

    Do what the majority of American people want, not one Republican lady.

    October 22, 2009 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  21. Gar gar

    Why won't they listen to us....we don't want a public option...perhaps they need hearing aids. Perhaps they are just stupid.

    October 22, 2009 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  22. MatthewDetroit

    The Democrats lie.
    They took 250 Billion out of the bill and are now magically accounting for it...
    This will cost TOO much money.
    Say no to the bill.
    Say no.

    October 22, 2009 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  23. New Yorker

    Just forget the public option. The government turns everything into a debacle. To top it off they want to make health insurance mandatory or we pay fines. Outrageous! Further proof the liberals won't be happy till we live under totalitarian rule because, you know, they think they know what's best. Their goal is obviously less and less freedom for the American people.

    October 22, 2009 09:50 pm at 9:50 pm |
  24. bawana

    you dems better do it,,otherwise the repugs will try to take back over and we won't get anything done for the little guy

    October 22, 2009 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  25. coolriffs@gmail.com

    i am a white middle aged male who works his butt of for a living. i believe in the lord and that we all need to help our fellow man. with a public option we will help lift the burden off the lower income families and help raise there stanrard of living .. and not just for them but for all of us I SAY YES FOR THE PUBLIC OPTION!!!!!! White working class here !! so .. just get to work and do it please stop the left and right whining and do something for the country like helping us .. not having a rock paper scissors contest with ppl lives ..

    October 22, 2009 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
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