Policy-ish

Revived Public Option May Freeze Out Snowe

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he's always looking for Republicans to support his party's policy initiatives but they're hard to find. Yet the move he made Monday may chase away Sen. Olympia Snowe, the only Republican who has so far supported Democrats' efforts to overhaul the nation's health care system.

Sen. Max Baucus talks health care with Sen. Olympia Snowe. i i

Sen. Max Baucus talks health care with Sen. Olympia Snowe earlier this month. Alex Wong/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Alex Wong/Getty Images
Sen. Max Baucus talks health care with Sen. Olympia Snowe.

Sen. Max Baucus talks health care with Sen. Olympia Snowe earlier this month.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Reid, who has been trying to merge two Senate committees' health overhaul plans, said he intends to include a version of the "public insurance option" that would allow states to opt out by 2014 if they don't like the program.

But Snowe, the senior senator from Maine, says a public option should kick in only if affordable coverage proved unavailable to 95 percent of residents in any state. She voted earlier this month with Senate Finance Committee Democrats to support chairman Max Baucus's health care legislation, but she said that was not guarantee of her future support.

Reid is not a fan of Snowe's "trigger" plan and didn't ask CBO to score how much such an approach would cost.

Reid said he spoke with Snowe on Friday and knows his decision could cost the bill its only Republican supporter so far. "We hope that Olympia will come back," he said. "She's worked hard. She's a very good legislator. I'm disappointed that the one issue, the public option, has been something that's frightened her."

Snowe said in a statement she was "deeply disappointed" with Reid's decision. "I still believe that a fallback, safety net plan, to be triggered and available immediately in states where insurance companies fail to offer plans that meet the standards of affordability, could have been the road toward achieving a broader bipartisan consensus in the Senate," she said.

Carey is a reporter for Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit news service.

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