UPDATE: US Sen Reid: Health Bill To Include Public Plan With State Opt-Out
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D, Nev.), said Monday
that health-care legislation that comes before the Senate will have
a government-run health insurance option which states can choose
not to carry.
Reid told reporters that, under the legislation, states would
have until 2014 to choose to "opt out" of the public plan. The move
casts doubt over whether Reid will be able to attract any
Republican support for the bill and whether it will have 60 votes
needed to avoid a filibuster.
Reid cast aside questions of whether he will have 60 votes for
the bill's passage, but suggested that he would have support among
Democrats for a procedural motion allowing the Senate to proceed to
"I believe we clearly will have the support of [the Democratic
caucus] to move to the bill and start legislating," Reid said.
Reid has led talks on health-care legislation between he, Senate
Finance Chairman Max Baucus, (D, Mont.), Senate Banking Chairman
Christopher Dodd, (D, Ct.), and White House officials. While there
are 60 Democrats in the Senate, Reid has faced the challenge of
crafting a compromise on the bill that can attract support from
both liberals and moderates within his party.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, (R, Maine), who is considered a key swing
vote on the bill, has signaled that she would not support a public
option with a state "opt-out" provision, though she supported a
health-care bill approved by the Senate Finance Committee. The
Finance Committee bill didn't include a public health insurance
option, but rather would a network of health-care
In a statement, Snowe said she "deeply disappointed" that Reid
would include a public health insurance plan in the bill. Snowe has
argued for a public plan "trigger" that would spur the creation of
public plans on a state-by-state basis only if private insurers did
not provide affordable coverage to a large enough proportion of a
given state's population.
"I still believe that a fallback, safety net plan, to be
triggered and available immediately in states where insurance
companies fail to offer plans that meet the standards of
affordability, could have been the road toward achieving a broader
bipartisan consensus in the Senate," Snowe said in a statement.
Reid said that he hopes Snowe "will come back."
"I'm very disappointed that this one issue, the public option,
has been something that's frightened her," Reid said.
In a statement, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said
President Barack Obama is "pleased" that the bill will include a
"Thanks to their efforts, we're closer than we've ever been to
solving this decades-old problem," Gibbs said. "And while much work
remains, the President is pleased ... at the progress that Congress
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R, Ky.), in a statement
Monday, criticized the yet-unseen bill, saying that the "core of
the proposal is a bill that the American public clearly does not
like, and doesn't support."
Liberal lawmakers and groups cheered Reid's announcement. Sen.
Jay Rockefeller, (D, WV.), who has argued forcefully in favor of a
public plan, in a statement said he is "gratified to see the public
option debate is alive and well in the Senate."
Gerald McEntee, who heads the American Federation of State,
County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), said the bill is "by no
means perfect," but a "significant improvement over the proposal
crafted in the Senate Finance Committee.
Health insurers have fought against a public plan and, in recent
weeks, ramped up their criticism of leading health-care proposals
before Congress. Karen Ignagni, president and chief executive of
the America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) trade group, said in a
statement Monday that the public plan debate is "a roadblock to
"A new government-run plan would underpay doctors and hospitals
rather than driving real reforms that bring down costs and improve
quality," Ignagni said. "The American people want health care
reform that will reduce costs and this plan doesn't do that."
Leading insurers in AHIP include Aetna Inc. (AET), Humana Inc.
(HUM), Cigna Corp. (CI) and UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH).
-By Patrick Yoest, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-3554;
(Henry J. Pulizzi contributed to this story)