AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., speaks during the markup of
health care legislation on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 29, 2009. At left Sen. Jay Rockefeller.

Despite Senate Panel’s Rejection of Public Health Care Option, Democrats Remain Optimistic

September 30, 2009 03:30 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
The Senate rejected two public option amendments to the health care bill, but Democrats are not ready to give up the fight to reform the health care system.

Health Care Overhaul Continues

President Obama’s health care effort faced its first setback as the Senate Finance Committee “rejected the ‘public option,’ or government-run health insurance plan” on Tuesday, David Lightman reports for McClatchy News. The two amendments to the health care bill, proposed by Democratic Sens. Jay Rockefeller, W.V., and Charles Schumer, N.Y., were defeated by a vote of 15 to 8 and 13 to 10, respectively.

As VOA News explains, the public plan presented by the Democratic senators and endorsed by the president aims to offer a “low-cost alternative to private insurance companies.” But the public option has been heavily criticized by “members of the public” and “conservative Republicans” who say that the option would “force private insurers out of business” and eventually “lead to socialized health care in the United States,” according to VOA News.

Sen. Rockefeller’s amendment was specifically directed at reducing the costs paid to health care providers to match those of Medicare, while Sen. Schumer’s proposal suggested a renegotiation of rates between Medicare and providers in the manner of private insurers, Laura Litvan and Kristin Jensen report for Bloomberg.

Even though Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and other Democratic senators voted against the plan, most Democratic members of the Committee, who control 60 of the 100 Senate seats, spoke against the large profits made by the private insurance industry, and declared that they would like to establish “some kind of law to change how people obtain health care coverage,” Lightman notes.

To explain his decision to vote against both proposals, Sen. Baucus indicated that he wanted to present an amendment that would obtain all 60 Democratic votes in the Senate. “My job is to put together a bill that becomes law,” ABC News quoted him as saying. “I can count. Nobody has shown me a bill with a public option that gets to 60. So I am constrained to vote against the amendment.”

Reactions: Democrats unwilling to give up the fight

The health care debate promises to continue, led by a number of Democratic senators that support Obama’s proposed plan unconditionally. “We are going to keep at this and at this and at this until we succeed, because we believe in it so strongly,” Sen. Schumer told The Washington Post. Similarly, Sen. Rockefeller highlighted the reduction in costs for families if the bill was approved. “Why would we not do this?” he asked. “People come second and the profits come first if we’re against this,” Bloomberg quotes him as saying. Republican members of the Committee, on the other hand, were unanimously opposed to the proposal, describing it as a “slow walk toward government-controlled, single-payer health care,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, was quoted as saying in The Washington Post.

Still, the public option proposal has much room for development. Quoting White House spokesman Reid Cherlin, McClatchy Newspapers explains that although Obama firmly stands by the notion of making a public option available for people with no insurance, he is also open to discussing “other constructive ideas of increasing choice and competition.” Other options might include establishing co-ops or nonprofit companies, or “perhaps a ‘trigger’ that would allow a public option to take effect if private insurers didn't meet certain standards,” Lightman writes.

Democrats don’t have a set deadline by which to have the health care reform bill approved, though Obama has stated he would like that to happen in 2009, Agence France-Presse reports. As Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared, “We don't feel any pressure of time. We are on a time line that will produce a bill in a timely fashion, but we feel no rush to come to the floor until we are ready. And we'll let you know when that is.”

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