Public Option Takes Center Stage in Healthcare Debate [2]

On Tuesday, September 29, the Senate Committee on Finance voted against creating a government-run public option as part of healthcare reform. The vote came following an emotional debate that lasted more than half the day, the Los Angeles Times [3] reported. However, though the public option was voted down in the Senate committee, it is still possible for a public option to be included in the final draft of healthcare legislation, the Times reported.

The committee voted on two public option amendments. An amendment was introduced by Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), which went down by a count of 15 - 8. Five Democrats joined all 10 Republicans on the committee in voting against the amendment. In addition, the committee also voted against Sen. Charles Schumer's (D-NY) revised public plan option, which looked to address concerns that a government-run health care program would have an unfair advantage over private insurance companies, by a margin of 13-10, the Times noted.

In response to the Senate committee vote, the Main Street Alliance [4], a national network of small business coalitions working to provide a voice for small businesses on health care that supports a public option, issued a statement stressing that the public option is still alive and well. "The public option amendment sponsored by [Schumer] garnered 10 votes in the committee ... a much stronger showing than the naysayers inside the DC beltway ever predicted. This vote provides that momentum is swinging back in support of real reform - reform that includes the choice of a public health insurance option."

According to Reuters [5], Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), the chair of the Finance Committee, opposed both amendments and told Reuters that he did not believe Democrats would be able to muster the 60 votes necessary to pass healthcare reform with a public option. However, the article noted that supporters insist that they would be successful in getting a health care option added to health care legislation when the issue is taken up by the full Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a public option would be in a final bill, Reuters reported.

While Democrats insist the public option would provide consumers with more affordable healthcare choices, Republicans argue that a public option would destroy the private insurance sector, ultimately leading to a government takeover of health insurance, as reported by Reuters. --David Grogan [6]