Health Inc.

Senate To Include Public Option In Health Overhaul Bill

Well, the public option just got another lease on life.

Sen. Harry Reid. i i

hide captionSen. Harry Reid of Nevada says the public option is back on.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Sen. Harry Reid.

Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada says the public option is back on.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has now confirmed publicly what's been flying around as rumor for a few hours. A unified Senate bill to overhaul the nation's health system will include a government-sponsored program in the insurance market. In a nod to critics, states that don't want to go that route can opt out.

Reid said a public option is "an important way to ensure competition" and polls show Americans support the approach. Within a few hours the proposal will go to the Congressional Budget Office for the verdict on cost, and we could see the details in a day or two.

Importantly, Reid said he had the support of Montana Democrat Max Baucus and the White House in making the change, signaling the Democrats may now calculate they have a better chance of getting 60 votes in the Senate with the public option than without it.

It's a pretty quick turnabout. The Senate Finance Committee's health proposal moved along without including the provision, as Chairman Baucus sought to garner some Republican support for the legislation. He succeeded, barely, in getting Maine's Olympia Snowe to hop aboard for the vote by the finance panel.

Even a single Republican vote was seen as important symbolically. It also provided cover to conservative Democrats to support a proposed overhaul.

But Snowe cautioned her vote in favor of Baucus's plans was just her vote for that day and not a guarantee of future support. Indeed, as Reid acknowledged Monday afternoon, Snowe "doesn't like a public option of any kind." But, he hasn't given up on her, "There will be a time, I hope, when she sees the wisdom of supporting a health-care bill" that includes a public option.

During questioning from reporters about the prospects for bipartisan support, Reid replied, "I'm always looking for Republicans. It's just hard to find them." He said he can count the moderate Republicans in the Senate on two fingers. When it comes to health care, finding even those votes may have just gotten a lot harder.

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