The Senate’s top Democrat said that sweeping health care overhaul legislation would include a national public health plan that allows states to determine whether or not they want to participate.
“While the public option is not a silver bullet, I believe it’s an important way to ensure competition and to level the playing field for patients with the insurance industry,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters.
By seeking a public option, the Nevada Democrat walks a politically thin line. It’s unclear whether the leader has the 60 Democratic votes that would be needed to move the legislation forward, assuming that all Republicans vote to stall the measure.
The only Republican to support the health care reform bills, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, said she would not vote for a bill with a public option.
Reid would not say if he had rallied his party, but hinted that he could pull Democrats together to help push the bill forward.
“I feel good about the consensus that we reached within the caucus and the White House,” he said.
The package, which is emerging as Senate leaders meld two bills passed by the chamber’s pivotal Finance Committee and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, will also contain a measure to create insurance purchasing groups called “co-ops,” Reid said.
Details, however, remain scarce. Reid said that he expects to send a number of reform provisions to congressional auditors, but that the “opt-out” version would be the only public option measure submitted.
“I think it’s the fairest way to go,” he said.
Republican members were quick to take to the Senate floor in opposition. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called it “another disguised way to end up with a single-payer, government-run” health care system.