Minn. delegation weighs in on Reid's public option

Harry Reid
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. gestures while speaking on health care reform during a news conference, Monday, Oct. 26, 2009, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari

The final version of a health care reform plan is starting to take shape in Washington and members of Minnesota's Congressional delegation are weighing in on where they stand.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Monday the Senate bill will include a government-run public health insurance option, but would allow states to opt out of participating. All of Minnesota's Republican representatives say they oppose that plan, and at least one Democrat said he's skeptical it doesn't go far enough.

The move to include a public option in the Senate bill pleases DFL Sen. Al Franken. Franken said he supports it even with the provision that allows states to opt out because it will help make the public option law.

"If most people in Oklahoma don't want the public option, I guess Oklahoma doesn't have the public option," Franken said. "But I don't think that helps a lot of people in Oklahoma and ultimately, I think that what will happen is that the public option will be shown to work and states will sign on."

Franken said he'll only support the provision if state Legislatures, not governors, get to decide whether to opt out.

"I think that what will happen is that the public option will be shown to work and states will sign on."

DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she would also support the public option as long as it fixes Medicare payment rates for doctors. Klobuchar and other members of the congressional delegation argue that Medicare pays doctors in other states more than doctors in Minnesota because Medicare payments are based on volume, not outcomes.

Klobuchar said if the Senate bill fixes the payment disparity, she'll support a public option even if it allows states to opt out.

"I think there's some positive movement toward a public option that includes cost reform and also has this opt-out provision, which I think is fine, since you may have some individual states that may not want to be a part of it," Klobuchar said. "But the key is to make it easier for small businesses, many of them here today, self-employed, to buy into something that is less expensive."

While both Franken and Klobuchar are supportive of the public option, Minnesota's members of the U.S. House are divided. DFL Congressman Keith Ellison said the public option is the only way to ensure that everyone gets health coverage. Ellison said he's worried though that the final health care bill will allow an opt-out for states or a provision that only triggers the public option if health insurance companies don't lower costs.

When asked if he'd support a bill that allowed states to opt-out, Ellison said: "That's the same question people were asking me back in July. 'Would I vote for a bill without a public option if push came to shove?' I'm pushing and shoving to make sure the bill includes a robust public option."

DFLer Betty McCollum said she would also oppose any effort to let states opt out of the plan if it weakens current health coverage.

Democrat Jim Oberstar fully backs the public option. His spokesman said Oberstar hasn't considered the opt-out package for states, but he said Oberstar would probably support any bill that expands health care and prevents health insurance companies from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions.

Democrat Tim Walz said he's more inclined to back a bill with a public option now that the House bill includes legislation that would fix the Medicare reimbursement rate. DFLer Collin Peterson was unavailable to comment.

Meanwhile, the three Republicans in the delegation, John Kline, Erik Paulsen and Michele Bachmann, all say they don't support any of the health care proposals currently being considered. Bachmann said the federal government can do other things to lower health care costs and increase access.

"If people can purchase any type of health care they want across states lines, in any amount, and then allow people to have tax-free accounts to purchase their health care and fully deduct all of their health care expenses on their income tax return and then have true lawsuit reform," Bachmann said. "That would take care of the health care crisis for over 95 percent of the American people without having the U.S. government spend trillions of dollars."

As Congress continues to grapple with the health bill, Republican Gov. Pawlenty said he'd consider opting out of the plan if it becomes law.

"Well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Pawlenty said. "If it's up to me and it's presented as it's been debated in Washington D.C., I think it's a bad idea, and I don't think we should participate."

But it may not be Pawlenty's decision to make. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the opt-out plan would not go into effect until 2014, three years after Pawlenty leaves the governor's office.

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