Healthcare reform: Can Democrats give up public option?
As Obama calls on Congress to pass reform, the Democrats are still split on the need for a public health insurance option.
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On one side of the intra-party fault line are the dozens of conservatives and moderates that gave Democrats their majorities in the House and Senate. Many got hammered at home over the August recess by voters alarmed at the prospects of a big government role in healthcare.Skip to next paragraph
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On the other side are party progressives who campaigned on a public option and don’t want to see it negotiated away. They say the public alternative to private health insurance is critical, because it gives private insurers incentive to lower the cost of healthcare
“It’s important to have a genuine incentive to insurance companies to respond. Otherwise, the only incentive for them is just to accept more payments and then go on doing what they’ve done before,” says Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D) of Hawaii, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Hawaii has had a public option for health coverage since 1974.
In a leadership shuffle today, Sen. Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa left his chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee to chair the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee left vacant by Senator Kennedy. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) of Arkansas became the first woman to chair the Agriculture Committee.
“Do I think a public option is still possible? With the right leadership and the president weighing in, yes I do,” said Senator Harkin, after Wednesday's caucus meeting.
Harkin says that it’s important to have floor votes on a public option to see where Democrats stand. “Three committees in the House and one in the Senate have passed a public option. To say that the Senate doesn’t have 60 votes when you’ve never tried it means you’re not for the public option,” he said.
“We need to find out why someone opposes a public option, and to say: What else can we do for you that will make you more comfortable voting or the bill? That’s leadership,” he adds.