Lieberman, Collins Doubtful on Public Option

Wednesday, 09 Sep 2009 12:36 PM

By Dave Eberhart

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Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent Democrat, suggested this week that they are waffling on their support for a public-option feature in any ultimate healthcare reform effort, according to a report in The Hill.

In a setback for the administration, Lieberman said the focus on a public option has become a “distraction” to healthcare reform, adding that while he is opposed to a fixed public-option plan, he could be sold on the idea of a so-called public-option “trigger.”

“If you create a government health insurance plan, the government is inevitably going to be spending money on it, and that means taxpayers will be spending more money on it,” he said. “And I just don’t think at this stage in our history, with all of the terrible national debt that we’re facing, that we should be adding another government agency to do this kind of thing.”

The “trigger” concept is the brainchild of Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe and calls for a public option to kick in only if insurance companies fail to remedy the current system’s cost inefficiencies.

Like Lieberman, Collins apparently has lost faith with any straightforward public option in favor of the “trigger” feature, according to the Hill report.

“I’m opposed to a Washington-run public option,” Collins said. “I believe it would cause many people to lose health insurance that they’re currently happy with now, and that’s contrary to the assurances that advocates of the public option have been giving. I’m also concerned about the cost and control issue.

“A trigger is certainly a better approach, but I’m not convinced that we could rely on this administration to resist the lure of triggering the public option.”

Collins’s defection also comes as a blow to the Obama Administration’s overall effort to steamroll through healthcare reform that features the public option.

Collins said she spoke last week with Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., who is leading a series of bipartisan talks on a Finance Committee health bill.

Meanwhile, Lieberman said he favors reining in insurers -- by guaranteeing coverage and eliminating prohibitions based on pre-existing conditions.

“People say, ‘We’ve got to keep the insurance companies honest,’ but to me the better way to do that is through government regulation,” he said.

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