"Opt Out" Provision For Public Health Care Discussed

By:  Bob Kinzel
Vermont Public Radio

Montpelier, VT

(Host)  All three members of Vermont's Congressional delegation are encouraging their colleagues to include a strong public option plan in the health care reform bill.

They say it's too early to tell if their efforts are going to be successful.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) There's been a lot of heated debate in Congress over the inclusion of a public plan in the health care reform bill.  Recently, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he supports a public plan as long as individual states have the option of not participating in the program - it's known as the "opt out" provision.

Senator Patrick Leahy says he's willing to support this approach if it means that the Democrats can garner enough support to pass a comprehensive health care reform bill:

(Leahy) "If you have to have some area of compromise that may be the best area to compromise. I still feel that a full public option nationwide makes a lot of sense...Frankly if we have an opt-out I doubt if very many states are going to opt out because I think the consumers in the states won't want them to."

(Kinzel) Congressman Peter Welch says he's working directly with colleagues who come from  states that haven't had major health care reform discussions at the state legislative level:

(Welch) "Some members come from districts where the health care debate is very fresh. It's like this is the first time that they've really faced some of these questions about insurance practices about the uninsured, but those of us who are strong supporters are doing all we can to reach out to our colleagues who are on the fence to try to answer their questions and encourage them to move ahead."

(Kinzel) Welch says health care reform efforts were successful in Vermont in 2006 because a number of Republicans, including Governor Jim Douglas, supported the final bill.

Welch says he's disappointed that this bi-partisan approach is missing in Washington:

(Welch ) "We don't have that here, and frankly if I'm frustrated about anything that's the thing I'm frustrated about. So I think on something so important as a major health care reform having both sides sit at the table trying to get to yes is really important for public confidence."

(Kinzel) Senator Bernie Sanders thinks one effective way to influence other members of Congress is to encourage grass roots support for the bill across the country.

(Sanders) "When millions of Americans say enough is enough we need to move forward on health care because if we don't we're not going to be able to afford a doubling of health care costs in 7 years...We have got to deal with it and I think as that public support grows - and it is growing - I think there will be more and more pressure on wavering members of Congress to stand up and begin to address this health care crisis."

(Kinzel) Congressional leaders say they hope to have a bill on the floor for debate in the next two weeks.

For VPR News, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.