Health care public option gains ground in Congress

Pelosi says it's needed; Reid weighing idea

By Erica Werner
Associated Press
October 16, 2009

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that the case is growing stronger for allowing the government to sell health insurance in competition with private companies, contending recent attacks from the industry should dispel any doubts.

"The need for a public option is very clear," the California Democrat said at her weekly news conference, making the argument as members of Congress worked to finalize sweeping legislation extending coverage to millions of the uninsured.

"Anyone who had any doubts about the need for such an option need only look at the behavior of the health insurance industry this week," Pelosi said.

She was referring to an industry-funded study that said insurance premiums would rise under health overhaul legislation advanced by the Senate Finance Committee earlier this week. Pelosi also referenced an insurance industry ad campaign targeted at seniors.

The speaker has been on the attack against health insurers for months, but the latest developments clearly strengthened her resolve to make them pay.

She also said that the House is now considering adding to its health care bill a $6.7-billion-a-year fee on insurance companies that is part of the Senate Finance package.

Final version coming together

It has been clear for some time that the House health overhaul bill likely would include a public plan, but its design remains unsettled. However, the stronger version favored by liberals -- one that would use reimbursement rates to providers based on Medicare rates -- may be gaining favor.

Pelosi supports that version though she said a final decision hadn't been made. She said that if people are going to be required to purchase health insurance -- as all the health bills on Capitol Hill contemplate -- they need to have access to the cheaper rates government insurance could offer.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is weighing whether to include some version of a public plan as he works to merge the Finance bill with a more liberal version approved by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says a final decision hasn't been made but that if people are going to be required to buy health insurance, they need to have access to the cheaper rates government insurance could offer.

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