Details About Health-Care Reform Bill’s Missing ‘Public Option’ Section May be Released Friday

By Marie Magleby | June 18, 2009 | 8:24 PM EDT

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., holds up a stack of documents comprising of the health care reform bill as Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee ranking Republican and Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., looks on, before the committee's markup hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 17, 2009. (AP photo)

( – Details on the expected but still undefined “public option” section of the proposed health-care reform bill could be released on Friday – or not. 

Members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) have spent the last two days marking up – or analyzing section by section – a version of the bill that still offers no details on some of the most controversial issues in the health-care debate, and committee leaders still have not pinned down exactly when they expect to receive those details.

Ranking committee member Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) told Thursday that he was told that the text would be released on Friday.

“No I think we’re looking at tomorrow (Friday) -- that’s when I was told we would get it,” Enzi said on Thursday. “Then we would have until Monday, close of business, to get amendments in.”

But Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), a senior Democrat on the committee who is substituting for the ailing chairman, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), wouldn’t be specific about when the section of the bill dealing with the proposed “public option” would be available.

In response to a reporter’s question about when the public health insurance plan would be made public, Dodd said, “I think probably in the next couple of days.”
For now, committee members are marking up parts of the bill that are already available, but the largest piece of the puzzle remains unknown -- the section containing the expected government-run public health insurance option, for which the bill simply states, “policy under discussion.”
As the debate continues, the bipartisan approach that President Obama has called for seems far from the reality. Republican committee members proposed more than 300 amendments to the bill, while Democrats submitted 24. 

At times, however, the rhetoric from both sides seemed to run counter to the positions that both Democrats and Republicans have thus far staked out.
One of the disagreements centered on the experimental nature of health-care reform. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said health-care reform should not be seen as an experiment, but Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) disagreed.

“This bill is not an experiment,” Gregg said. “This bill reforms the health-care delivery system of this country. There is virtually nothing experimental about this bill.

Bingaman however, responded that he sees the plan as an experiment.
“I think this is a massive -- it is a significant reform of our health-care system, but frankly a lot of the changes that have been suggested by both Democrats and Republicans are very much in expectation of changes which we are uncertain of the outcome. I very much hope we see the improvements in quality and reduction in cost that we’re working toward in earnest.

“I think there’s a lot of experimentation in this,” Bingaman added.

Despite the fact that the public option is not currently outlined in the bill, Dodd expressed strong support for the government-run health insurance component – an aspect that President Obama recently told Congress he wants included in the final bill. 

“I happen to be very strong for a public option,” Dodd said. “I think we need a public option in this bill. I’m going to do everything I can to see to it that a public option is included. Obviously, there are those who have expressed their opposition to that. The reason I’m for it is that it’s one certain way to drive down costs, which is obviously the goal we all share.”

Republicans, however, say they have problems with the idea of mandating insurance through a government-run system, mandatory cost controls and higher taxes.
“At a time when major government programs like Medicare and Medicaid are already on a path to fiscal insolvency, creating a brand new government program will not only worsen our long-term financial outlook but also negatively impact American families who enjoy the private coverage of their choice,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are on notice from the White House that they are expected to deliver a bill this fall. Dodd, who is Kennedy’s “chief deputy for health care reform,” said bipartisanship is not his ultimate goal and Republican objections will not stop the bill’s progress.

“There’s a time and a place for everything, and I certainly would love to have bipartisan support in the committee and the final product. But my goal here is to write a good bill. My goal is not bipartisanship. That can help you get to a good bill, but it’s not an end in itself,” Dodd said.