Senate Panel Defeats Public Option in Baucus Health Care Reform Measure

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 29, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Senate Panel Defeats Public Option in Baucus Health Care Reform Measure

by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 29
, 2009

Washington, DC ( — A Senate committee today voted to defeat an amendment to include the public option in the Baucus health care "reform" legislation. The public option is the government-run health care program that pro-life groups worry would expand abortion funding more that is already present in the bill.

The Senate Finance Committee rejected an amendment from Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia on a 15-8 vote to include the government-run health care plan in the Baucus bill.

Sen. Max Baucus, the sponsor of the measure, voted against the public option along with four other Democrats and all 10 Republicans who are members of the committee.

During the debate, Baucus said he liked much about the public option but decided to vote against it because he worried adding it would kill the bill since the government option doesn’t have the support of a majority of the members of the Senate.

"I fear if this provision is in the bill, it will hold back meaningful reform this year," Baucus said.

"My job is to put together a bill that becomes law," Baucus said. "I can count. Nobody has shown me a bill with a public option that gets to 60. So I am constrained to vote against the amendment."

Rockefeller’s amendment would have required the secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department to develop a public health insurance option starting in 2013 as one option in a health insurance exchange.

The Finance Committee is prepared to vote on a second amendment to include the public option sponsored by pro-abortion Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.

His plan tweaks Rockefeller’s proposal by mandating that the government negotiate rates with health care providers, like a private insurer does, instead of simply mandating them. However, the Schumer amendment is not expected to pass either.

The public option is important in both the House and Senate if for different reasons. In the House, liberal Democrats say they won’t support a bill without it. On the Senate side, moderate Democrats object to a health care restructuring bill that has it.

For pro-life advocates, the public option is a possible way to greatly expand abortion funding.

Even without the government-run health care scheme in place, the Baucus bill still contains abortion funding and the committee will vote, either today or this week, on pro-life amendments to remove it.

When it comes to the public option in the House, HR 3200 would kick it off with $2 billion in start-up funds from the Treasury and, as amended, the bill "explicitly authorizes the Obama Administration to fund abortion for any reason under the public plan, from day one," says Douglas Johnson of National Right to Life.

"So, once the Secretary of HHS has ordered that all abortions be covered under the ‘public option,’ what would that mean? It would mean that you would not be allowed to enroll in the new government plan unless you were willing to pay an additional premium to cover the cost of elective abortions — in effect, an abortion surcharge," he explains.

Johnson told the Capps amendment added to the House bill Pelosi wants approved "explicitly requires that the federal official who runs the program must calculate the total cost of abortions and increase the premium for all enrollees enough to pay for the aggregate cost of the abortions."

"The amendment specifies that this ‘abortion surcharge’ (my term) cannot be less than $12 per enrollee per year, but the amendment does not set an upper limit," he says.

"Again, this abortion premium is not optional: If you want to enroll in the government’s public health plan, you would be required to pay the abortion surcharge. If you did not want to pay for abortions, you would not be allowed to take advantage of the government program at all," he concludes.

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