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Senators: Congress, President Should Get Health Insurance Through Public Option

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, December 8, 2009

If proposed healthcare reforms, including a public insurance option, are good enough for the country, Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Richard Burr (R-NC), and David Vitter (R-LA) said they should be good enough for the White House and Congress. On Tuesday, they proposed just that in an amendment to the Senate healthcare reform bill.

The amendment is not exactly new. This past summer, Coburn (a public option foe) had introduced an amendment that stated that if the public option passed, members of the White House and Congress should enroll in those plans in their jurisdictions. Coburn's amendment passed this summer in the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee reform bill. "I can think of no better way to ensure that the public option is responsive to our citizens than by having the politicians in charge of the system enrolled in the same program," he said.

Similarly, Grassley, ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee, had proposed his public option enrollment amendment during the committee's deliberation this past fall—which received unanimous support from both sides of the aisle. However, the amendments disappeared during the reconciliation process for the final Senate bill.

Grassley said he learned last week that the staff members of Senate leadership offices and committees would be exempted from the requirement that members of Congress and congressional staff get their employer—based health insurance through the same system that would apply to the rest of the country. Grassley said the carve—out came to light after he asked the Congressional Research Service to analyze the bill—and they confirmed the carve—out.

The amendment filed Monday combines the Coburn and Grassley amendments, and calls for putting all members of the House and Senate and their staffs in the public option in states that have one and in the exchanges in states that opt out of the public option. The amendment also calls for enrolling the president, the vice president, White House staff, and all administration political staff in the public option or exchange (depending on their state).

"The White House and cabinet secretaries are working very hard for this massive overhaul of America's healthcare system," Grassley said in a statement. "It's only fair that if this bill becomes law, these individuals should themselves be subject to the reforms. The same is true for congressional staff. Quietly carving out leadership staff and committee staff behind closed doors is unacceptable. If the reforms are as good as their supporters say, the reforms should be good."

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