Dean: Oppose Bill without Public Option

Sunday, 20 Dec 2009 10:09 PM

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Former Vermont governor and Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean blasted the Senate healthcare bill Sunday for lacking a public option and compromising a system of universal healthcare with an "unseemly scramble for votes."

Dean, who is also a physician, continued to say he'd vote no on the bill if it lacks a public option.

Excerpts:

Dr. Dean: . . . We have committed — in this last week of unseemly scrambling for votes, we have committed to go down a path in this country where private insurance will be the way that we achieve universal healthcare. That means we're going to have a 30-year battle with the insurance industry every time when we try to control costs and try to get them do things. It is not a coincidence, David Gregory, that insurance company stocks, health insurance company stocks, hit a 52-year high on Friday. So they must know something that the rest of us don't.

MR. GREGORY: The question is whether this is in keeping with the, the president's principles on healthcare; the way he campaigned, the promises he made in terms of how he would lead an effort to get healthcare reform, including the public option, which you heard David Axelrod say he supported. Did he fight for these principles, in your view, the way he should have?

DR. DEAN: Well, look, I, I think this is, this is not universal healthcare. About, it's about 94 percent. But he certainly tried very hard. But I think the absence of having choices for Americans, real choices — including a system like Medicare, which only has 4 percent of its expenditures go to nonhealthcare expenditures, as opposed to 25 or 20 percent in this bill that's just about to pass — I think that's a big loss. And the bottom line is, in a unseemly scramble for votes that have nothing to do with long-range public policy, we have really essentially cut out the idea that Americans will have a choice of a different kind of insurance system. The same kind of insurance system people over 65 have, the same kind of insurance that veterans have. A lot of us would have liked to have that system, because it's so much more effective and, frankly, so much more satisfactory that what we see in the private insurance sector.

MR. GREGORY: You say an "unseemly scramble for votes." For Senator Lieberman, they had to give up Medicare expansion or else he would not have voted for it. For Senator Nelson, much the same thing, and also including this — these restrictions on whether abortions can be paid for in a federal exchange of private insurance plans. Given this rush and the compromises made for votes, do you stand by your words this week that you would not vote for this bill?

DR. DEAN: I would certainly not vote for this bill if this were the final product. But there are — the House bill is a — quite a good bill. This bill has improved over the last couple of weeks. I would let this thing go to conference committee and let's see if we can fix it some more, because this . .

MR. GREGORY: What needs to be fixed specifically?

DR. DEAN: Well, first of all, the cost controls need to apply to hospitals. Second of all, we really do need some kind of a public option. At least allow the states to have a public option, a real public option, because they — you know, some senators have said, "Well, there's a public option to the bill." Well, that's not really true. The public option in this bill is allowing the federal government to, to negotiate with private insurance companies. That's not a public option.

MR. GREGORY: But, Governor, do you really expect the White House to fight for any form of a public option at this stage of the game?

DR. DEAN: Well, obviously we've been very disappointed by, by that. We, we don't think that there has been much fight in the White House for that. Another big piece that needs to be fixed is we — I don't think we ought to be able to charge older people three times as much as you charge younger people. The House has twice as much, that's still too much. So there's a lot of things that need to be fixed. But if they are fixed, you aim — may actually get the foundation of a bill coming out of the House. If most of the House provisions survive, then we could have a bill that we could work with. But this elimination of the public option is a real sticking point, because that, in fact, is how you really save money and bend the curve in expenses.

MR. GREGORY: But I just want to be clear. So your advice, former chairman of the party, to House and Senate members who come to the point of a final bill, if it does not have a public option, your advice would be vote no.

DR. DEAN: I think it's got to have a public option, at least some of this — some — at least allow some of the states. Now, there are two countries that have done this without a public option, Switzerland and the Netherlands, but they treat insurance companies as public utilities. That's what we would have to do. And I don't have an objection to that. The — my, my concern about the public option is not ideological. But I just think a 30-year fight with the insurance industries over every little detail about how they're going to control costs is something that, judging by this past week, when the insurance companies . . .

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