Democratic Sen. Al Franken says he strongly supports including a public option in the effort to restructure the nation's health care system.
At a meeting on health care he held in St. Paul, Franken said a public option could provide an important "check" on insurance companies by competing with them in a not-for-profit model.
"Boy, is health care rationed now," Franken said. "And it's rationed by big insurance companies that choose to say, 'Oh, you can't have it.'"
Franken lamented what he said has been a lot of misinformation about how a public option would work.
"People have been kind of misinformed about what this is too," Franken said. "They consider it government takeover of health, and we have to reassure them, if it's even possible, that that's not what it is. It's another option."
Franken also said health care reform opponents are greatly exaggerating how many Americans might lose their employer-based health care if a public option is available.
It wasn't Franken's first such round-table discussion on health care, but spokeswoman Jess McIntosh said the meeting in St. Paul was the first held in the Twin Cities and witnessed by the media. Franken is just seven weeks into his term after his disputed election was settled in June.
Franken, a Democrat, also lamented the death of Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, saying Kennedy's absence has been a "major loss" as the health care debate has unfolded. Franken said the push for universal health care was the cause of Kennedy's life.
"His inspiration will be there, maybe in a bigger way," he said. "Who knows, maybe it'll be called the Kennedy bill."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)