(CNSNews.com) – The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Friday refused to rule out the possibility that a government-run health insurance plan will be a part of the health-care reform plan he’s crafting.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who has been the leading advocate for healthcare reform in Congress, told reporters at the National Press Club that a publicly funded health insurance plan – what he calls “the public option” -- was not off limits, adding that “everything is on the table” at this point.
“Some people say ‘kick the public option off the table.’ The public option’s on the table,” Baucus said. “Nothing’s off the table. The public option might be off to the side a little bit, but it’s still on the table.”
Baucus told critics of the congressional Democrats' health reform effort to “cool it” and suspend their judgment on any single aspect of health reform while a final plan is negotiated.
“Come on everybody, just suspend judgment, if only for a nanosecond. If there’s something that you don’t like just suspend judgment, just cool it,” Baucus pleaded.
“This is so complicated that your initial reaction might be ameliorated by something else you see here. Just don’t get too excited and let’s try to make something work. There’s always a way to make something work.”
Baucus expressed his view that every American must have health insurance; saying that there are a number of ways that goal could be accomplished, with a government-backed plan being one of them.
“I believe that everyone should have health insurance, every American should have health insurance. This (new) system will only work if every American gets health insurance," Baucus told CNSnews.com.
“My vision is that self-insured companies can keep the insurance they have. We’ll set up a system similar to Massachusetts’ where an individual looking for health insurance can go to the exchange and get health insurance from a public health insurance company -- similar to FEHBP for government employees today.”
FEHBP, which stands for the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan, is a system available to all federal employees which manages different private and union-created health care plans that meet the coverage and benefit requirements of the federal government. Insurance plans are submitted to FEHBP, which determines if they meet necessary requirements; if so, federal employees are allowed to choose between the different plans.
But when CNSNews.com asked the senator whether he plans to personally push for such a plan, one which both he and President Obama could support, Baucus was non-committal.
“We’ll see,” he answered.
Baucus, meanwhile, did indicate that he is unlikely to use "reconciliation" to push a health-care reform bill through the Senate.
Reconciliation is a process which allows competing versions of a budget bill to be "reconciled" without having to go to a formal House-Senate conference committee. In the Senate, a reconciliation measure receives only 20 hours of debate, preventing the minority party from blocking the bill via filibuster.
Sen. Baucus said he did not want to use this process to overcome Republican opposition because it would only thwart bipartisan negotiation.
“I am not in favor of reconciliation; I think it gets in the way,” Baucus said. “If we jam something down somebody’s throat it’s not sustainable, and I want something that’s sustainable, that’s going to last.
“My goal has always been to talk to Republicans and say ‘Hey, we don’t have to do this (resolution) if we work together.’”
The health reform bill is expected to be ready for introduction in early June. Baucus indicated that he plans to conduct three separate sets of hearings to discuss health care delivery, health insurance coverage and the overall cost of reform..
The bill could go to the Senate floor by July.