Senate Compromise Bill Excludes Free Choice

Despite offering up the public option, Sen. Ron Wyden says most Americans won’t have the option to buy it
October 27, 2009 -- Sen. Harry Reid made thousands of headlines yesterday when he announced that the Senate health bill would include a public option with a state opt-out clause.
 
But equally newsworthy, which garnered virtually no press at all yesterday aside from some blogs and the Rachel Maddow show, is that under Reid’s bill and every other health reform bill in Congress, roughly 90 percent of Americans won’t have the option of buying into the so-called public option.
 
UPDATE: After we first posted this story, the House released their version of a compromise bill, which includes the same exclusions for the public option.
 
So what if the majority of Americans want a public option, as Reid indicated in his press conference yesterday? The majority of Americans won’t get it. Neither will they have the choice, which Democrats talk so much about lately, to choose their own health plan just like the choice members of Congress and all federal employees have.
 
Under the most liberal analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, the health insurance exchange – of which the public option would be available – would cover 30 million people by 2019 compared to 164 million that would still be covered by their employer with no choice at all.
 
That’s because the bills only open the health insurance exchange and the public option to individuals or those in small employer groups with less than 50 people, with some variation based on the bill.
 
A recent article in The Hill sites the business-led Committee for Economic Development, that supports Sen. Ron Wyden's Free Choice Amendment, which would truly expand choice. But the more powerful American Benefits Council opposed it in a widely circulated letter to members of Congress and Sen. Max Baucus nixed the idea in committee. It may be that Wyden introduces the amendment on the Senate floor.
 
Wyden, who's become the most vocal proponent of opening the exchange to every American, had this to say yesterday in an official statement:
 
“I agree with Senator Reid that health reform should give Americans more options.  Now, I want to work with him to ensure that all Americans can choose those options.  The bottom line is that the public option can’t really hold private insurers accountable if it is only competing for 10 percent of the insurance market, because private insurance companies aren’t going to change their business practices if 90 percent of their customers can’t take their business elsewhere.  Real reform means empowering Americans to choose insurance that works well for them and their family, while rejecting plans that don’t.  Including a public option is a step in the right direction, now let’s remove the firewalls in this bill that prevent Americans from choosing it.”
 
So despite the symbolic nod from Sen. Max Baucus, his Free Choice Amendment hasn’t made it into the bill.
 
Watch Sen. Wyden on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show below:

 

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