Senate Public Plan Advocates Ready For Finance Committee Face-Off
Some senators in the Senate Finance Committee want to debate and vote on a public health insurance option that would compete with private insurers.
The Associated Press/The Washington Post: "Democratic Sens. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Chuck Schumer of New York said Thursday they want a full debate on whether the government should create a health plan to compete with private insurers and sign up middle-class workers and their families. Up to now, the government has covered the elderly and the poor. Rockefeller and Schumer had hoped their moment would come Friday, but with the committee moving slowly through hundreds of amendments to the sweeping legislation, the public plan debate was pushed off until next week." The two men plan to offer different versions of a public plan, where either the government sets payment rates or negotiated rates are used. Finance Chairman Sen. Max Baucus and Sen. Kent Conrad have proposed nonprofit co-ops as an alternative.
"The Finance Committee is seen as a key testing ground because it is dominated by moderates and conservatives, generally reflecting the makeup of the Senate" (Alonso-Zaldivar, 9/25).
The Hill: "The two liberal senators face a seemingly insurmountable challenge in getting their proposal adopted by the Finance Committee. Democrats outnumber Republicans on the panel 13 to 10 but members of the majority party do not universally support the public option. Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) both oppose the public option and can be expected to oppose the Rockefeller and Schumer amendments" (Young, 9/24).
Roll Call: "However, Baucus has repeatedly asserted that any bill with a public plan would fall to filibuster on the Senate floor, unable to garner the necessary 60 votes. And Democratic leaders have been loath to use budget reconciliation rules to sidestep a filibuster, because those procedural rules would drastically limit the scope of any health care reform measure. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed its version, which includes a public insurance option, in July and the two bills will be merged before heading to the Senate floor" (Pierce, 9/24).
Bloomberg: "'A health-care plan without a public option is a much weaker health plan because insurance companies continue to rule,' Rockefeller said in an interview. He said a public plan would help keep costs down because it wouldn't need to make a profit or spend money on marketing. 'That's going to force other companies to bring down costs over time,' he said. Schumer said that in 40 states, two insurance companies have more than half the market share. ... He said he was confident he and other 'progressives' would prevail in the end on the public option, even if their amendments fail in the finance committee. The overall Senate Democratic caucus is more supportive of a public option than some party members on the finance panel, he said" (Gaouette and Jensen, 9/25).
Roll Call, in a second story, reports that the markup is likely to continue into next week, despite Baucus' earlier hope to have it to the floor by then: "The markup continued apace Thursday, with Finance members bracing for a third consecutive late night of amendment consideration, as well as a Friday session. But Baucus, who had hoped to conclude the markup by week's end, hedged when asked if that goal would be met. Still, the Finance chairman said he was happy with the progress on his $900 billion plan so far" (Drucker and Pierce, 9/24).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.