Senate Panel Defeats Public Option Amendments

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , September 29, 2009

The Senate Finance Committee, on the fifth day of hearings on its healthcare reform package, turned down two separate public insurance option amendments proposed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).

The Rockefeller amendment, named the Consumer Choice Health Plan, was defeated in an 8-15 vote following more than five hours of debate. The amendment called for creation of private plans that would pay providers based on Medicare rates for two years and would be administered by an office within the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Schumer amendment, introduced afterwards on Tuesday afternoon, was defeated 10-14. Schumer's amendment differed from Rockefeller's in that it would have "no legislative advantage." Specifically, provider rates would be established competitively, and there would not be another "infusion of federal dollars" if a plan did not make it the first time around.

Rockefeller, who admitted that he knew the votes were not there for passage, aimed sharp criticism at the insurance industry-especially, he said, over their willingness to take $483 billion in new subsidies as outlined in the proposed healthcare reform bill without being asked to do much in return.

Opponents of the amendment, including Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), both said that the public option was a route toward a single-payer system.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Finance Committee, agreed with many of the points raised by Rockefeller, but said in the end, he could not vote for the amendment. He compared the health legislation in the committee as a cornerstone to healthcare reform, but adding the public option at this time "would jeopardize that cornerstone."

Schumer said that "we are going to keep at this [the public option]...until we succeed, because we believe in it so strongly." He said that while there may not be 60 votes now in the Senate, he expected that as the debate went on, the public option would attract more support.

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at

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