Lawmakers Renew Demands For Public Option In Health Bill
Senate and House Democrats are renewing their calls for a strong government-run public option in their respective chambers.
Roll Call reports that 30 Senate Democrats signed a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and took to the Senate floor Thursday to renew their calls for a public option to be included in a melded health care reform bill that senators will soon consider. Reid is blending the more conservative Senate Finance Committee bill without a government-run public option with a more liberal version of the bill from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. "The Democratic Conference remains split over the public insurance option, although that division might be softening. Liberals, who tend to support the public option, outnumber moderates, who either oppose the proposal or are skittish given public resistance back home. 'We are concerned that - absent a competitive and continuous public insurance option - health reform legislation will not produce nationwide access and ongoing cost containment,'" the senators wrote (Drucker, 10/8).
The Hill reports that the new chairman of the Senate Health Committee, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said a public option will be part of the merged bill. "Harkin made clear that public option supporters have earned the right to insist their views prevail. Noting that three House committees have also approved bills including a public option, Harkin maintained that supporters of the proposal should hold sway." (Young, 10/8).
The New York Times: "'It will be in there,' Mr. Harkin said. Citing poll numbers showing that a majority of Americans support a public option, he said it should be up to opponents to try to strip it out of the bill through amendments on the Senate floor (Herszenhorn, 10/8).
In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent three versions of the House health care reform bill to the Congressional Budget Office to be scored. The versions each had a version of the public option, according to The Washington Post. "'I think it's very clear from our conversations with the members that the votes are there for a public option,' Pelosi said. 'What I sent to the CBO has a number of versions.'" Pelosi said reimbursement rates are the center of discussions on a public plan (Pershing, 10/8).
The Hill reports in a second story that House liberals say they have 208 of 218 needed votes for a "robust" public plan. "Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told a closed-door caucus meeting that the group's 'whip count' showed it had 208 of the 218 votes needed to pass what liberals call a 'robust' public option."
In the House efforts to get a public option, liberals have supported a provision in which payments to physicians would be equal to Medicare rates plus 5 percent, according to the Hill. Some of the centrist Blue Dog Democrats "have agreed to a modified public option that wouldn't be tied to Medicare. Instead, federal officials would negotiate rates individually with providers" (Soraghan, 10/8).
The Financial Times looks at the renewed push for a government-run public plan in the Senate, where a public option failed in committee, but a planned push is readied for the floor. "Chuck Schumer, senator for New York and a senior member of the finance committee, which has drafted a key moderate bill, said he would push for a compromise public option a government-controlled health insurance scheme to be included when the debate eventually moved to the Senate floor" (Luce, Braithwaite and Sieff, 10/9).
The Wall Street Journal reports that Schumer "is talking with Sen. (Tom) Carper about introducing a federal plan with an opt-out right for states -- an idea closer to the original goal of liberals. Negotiations over the details are likely to continue for days or weeks."This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.