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Thirty Senate Dems Urge Public Option

Thirty Senate Democrats today urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to include a public insurance option in the bill the Democrats bring to the chamber floor, perhaps as early as next week.

We have spent the better part of this year fighting for health reform that would provide insurance access and continuity to every American in a fiscally responsible manner. We are concerned that – absent a competitive and continuous public insurance option – health reform legislation will not produce nationwide access and ongoing cost containment. For that reason, we are asking for your leadership on ensuring that the merged health reform bill contains a public insurance option.

The letter, spearheaded by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), also drew the support of Democratic Sens. John D. Rockefeller (W.Va.), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Pat Leahy (Vt.), Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Tom Udall (N.M.), Kristen Gillibrand (N.Y.), Roland Burris (Ill.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Al Franken (Minn.), Robert Casey (Pa.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), Ted Kaufman (Del.), Arlen Specter (Pa.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), John Kerry (Mass.), Herb Kohl (Wis.) and Paul Kirk (D-Mass.), as well as Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), who caucuses with the Democrats.

Three thoughts: First, the list of supporters is deceptively thin. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), for example, has been among the most vocal proponents of the public plan, but his name doesn’t appear on the letter.

Second, the Finance Committee included a provision allowing states to create their own public plans to negotiate with providers and compete with private insurers for the sake of bringing costs down for consumers. That’s not the robust national plan many liberals are pushing for, but it is a public plan. The Democrats’ letter is silent on whether the state plan provision would satisfy their demands.

And third, the letter acts as if Reid has the final say on the matter. He doesn’t. Even if the majority leader ignores this entreaty and goes with the Finance Committee’s state-based health co-ops, there will be plenty of time later to amend the bill. After all, this debate is just beginning.

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