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Reid Backs Public Option, But Questions Remain About Whether it Can Pass

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, October 27, 2009

In a brief afternoon press conference Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that a public insurance option, which will permit states to opt-out if they choose by 2014, will be included in the healthcare reform bill that will be sent to the Senate floor soon. However, the big question remains: Does he have the votes to make it a reality?

To get approved, the measure would need at least 60 votes on the floor. At yesterday's news conference, he remained noncommittal about whether all Senate Democrats and an independent would be onboard. "I feel good about the consensus' reach within our caucus and with the White House. And we are all optimistic about reform because of the investment in momentum that now exists," he said.

"We've spent countless hours over the last few days in consultation with senators who show a genuine desire to reform the healthcare system. And I believed there is a strong consensus for it in this direction," Reid continued. He said that sending the proposal to the Congressional Budget Office for scoring "will make it a step closer to achieving a bill."

Reid said he had spoken to Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), the lone GOP vote on the Senate Finance reform bill approved two weeks ago. He said she continued to not support a bill with a public option in it.

Earlier this year, she had proposed a "trigger plan," which would feature nonprofit agencies offering health insurance only in instances in which private insurers could not cover 95% of the residents in their regions with plans costing no more than about 15% of the individual's or household's annual income. The trigger plan is not included in the proposed bill, Reid said.

"I'm always looking for Republicans," Reid said. "It's just been a little hard to find them," he said, referring to the numbers of moderate GOP senators as being "extremely limited . . . I could count then on two fingers . . . [It] makes it really hard to get help from them."

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