Senate Committee Rejects Public Insurance Option
The Senate Finance Committee voted down Tuesday two amendments to include a public options for health insurance coverage in health care reform.
The Associated Press: "The two votes marked a victory for Montana Democrat Max Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, who is hoping to push his middle-of-the-road measure through the panel by week's end. It also kept alive the possibility that at least one Republican may yet swing behind the overhaul, a key goal of both Baucus and the White House. Inside the Senate Finance Committee, Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said his proposal to allow the government to sell insurance in competition with private industry was far from the federal takeover that critics portray. 'It's not. It's optional,' he said, adding it was designed to offer competition and a lower-priced, reliable choice for consumers shopping for coverage" (Espo, 9/29).
The Hill: "After more than four hours of debate, Sens. Baucus, Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) joined with all 10 of the committee's Republicans to defeat separate amendments ... Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) joined the three other Democrats in opposing Rockefeller's amendment, which would have pegged pay rates to Medicare's levels for two years" (Young, 9/29).
The Washington Post, calling the votes "a signal moment in the increasingly fractious debate over reforming the nation's sprawling health-care system," notes that "Baucus, who has emerged as the central player in shaping the bill, which is likely to be the main vehicle for debate on the Senate floor, said he supports the principle of a public option as an alternative to private insurance. But he warned that including it could doom the bill to a Republican filibuster. The votes are likely to deepen fissures in the Democratic Party...." They also serve as evidence that "moderate Democrats are reluctant to expand the federal health-care role beyond the current boundaries of the Medicare, Medicaid and Department of Veterans Affairs programs" (Murray and Montgomery, 9/30).
The New York Times: "Republicans on the committee unanimously opposed the public option, saying it was, in the words of Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, 'a Trojan horse for a single-payer system' in which the government would eventually control most health care." President Obama has been supportive of a public plan, but has not necessarily insisted on it. And Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the public option "would hold down costs because it would not have to generate profits, answer to shareholders or incur marketing expenses. His proposal would have required the public plan to negotiate rates with doctors and hospitals, rather than setting prices based on Medicare reimbursement rates" (Pear and Calmes, 9/29).
The Los Angeles Times: "GOP opponents included Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, the only Republican who is even considering supporting the bill. She did not speak during Tuesday's debate, in which one Republican after another denounced the idea as the equivalent of a government takeover of health insurance" (Hook, 9/30).
The Boston Globe: The panel's rejection of the two public plan amendments shifted attention to a proposal by Snowe. "Snowe's potential compromise plan would trigger the creation of a government-run plan in any state where at least two different plans, based on premium prices submitted by insurers, failed to meet affordability targets for 95 percent of state residents. 'Affordable' would mean that the individual's share, after employer contributions and any government help, would range from 3 percent to 13 percent of income, depending on income level" (Wangsness, 9/30).
Time: The "most likely way" a public option could be included in the finished product now is as a backup plan triggered by Snowe's approach. "Much to the dismay of liberal critics and some health policy experts, this so-called trigger plan would only be offered state by state rather than on a nationwide basis." She could bring the amendment before the committee later this week" (Pickert, 9/30).
The Wall Street Journal on Democrats hoping to avoid a filibuster: "But getting to 60 votes won't be easy, said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut who caucuses with Democrats. In an interview, he suggested a number of Democrats fear the legislation may be too ambitious. 'There's a very significant group -- not just centrists -- who don't want to sign off on the 60 votes, without having a level of comfort about where this is headed,' he said. 'There's another big moment coming'" (Hitt and Adamy, 9/30).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.