Hoyer: Probably More Votes For Less-Robust Public Option In House

October 27, 2009 6:40 a.m.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told reporters this morning the House may unveil its health care bill by the end of the week, but he also said that the Democratic leaders probably have more votes for a more modest public option than they do for the public option preferred by most liberals.

“It’s possible… that would be our objective, and it’s our objective because we want to consider this bill next week, and we pledged to give 72 hours notice so we need to roll out the bill this week. So it’s very possible that we’re going to have a meeting right after this meeting and I think we’ll have some better feel for where we are on that.”

That will likely please anxious reformers, but it may not all be good news. Asked what type of public option the House bill would likely include, Hoyer suggested that a public option with negotiated rates probably has more votes than does a more robust measure. Though the robust public option has a great deal of support among Democrats, Hoyer asks rhetorically “What additional numbers can you add by going to negotiated rates?…[W]e don’t have that exact number. But certainly there are people who want the negotiated rates who would add themselves to the number [that support a robust public option] that is anywhere between 200 and 218 at this point in time.”The difference is key to reformers, and will be key to the House’s bargaining position with the Senate when it comes time to turn the two chambers’ bills into one. A ‘robust’ public option–which sets reimbursement rates just above what Medicare pays doctors and hospitals–saves much more money, and has more potential to drive private insurers’ premiums down than does a public option that negotiates rates with providers. That’s why reformers like it. And given that the Senate’s public option proposal is itself based on negotiated rates, if the House endorses something similar, then it will almost certainly mean reformers don’t get the public option that they’ve been demanding all along.

Hoyer also became the first member of House leadership to weigh in on yesterday’s momentous news that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had decided to include a public option with an opt-out clause in his health care bill.

“I think we have much stronger support for a public option here in the House, so I think that our bill will be somewhat different on public option,” Hoyer said, adding positively: “But we’re very pleased that Senator Reid is now talking about including a form of public option so that that will be available for us in conference.”

So does the fact that the Senate’s public option will be based on negotiated rates have any bearing on what will come out of the House? Hoyer says it’s possible.

“There are some members of the House, obviously, who are very concerned about what the Senate does, and they’re very concerned about what the Senate does because they want to vote for something that can pass,” Hoyer said.

On the other hand there are a whole lot of people in the House–the great majority of the Democrats in the House–who want to see a health reform bill pass in the fashion that we believe is justified and important. And I think the overwhelming majority of Democrats are in favor of a public option. And as a result, my view is, what the Senate does or does not do, does it have an impact? Certainly on individual members. Will individual members have an impact on us in terms of what we can get 218 votes for? Yes that’s possible.

There is a third version of the public option under consideration in the House–one that would use negotiated rates at first, but would allow Medicare rates to kick in unless sufficient savings were realized. Hoyer didn’t address that option. But nonetheless, those are some very candid, on the record suggestions that the House bill is likely to include a less-than-maximal public option.

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