Rockefeller Says His Public Option Would Save $50 Billion Over 10 Years

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has introduced his public option amendment before the Senate Finance Committee. In making the pitch to the panel’s skeptics, he’s noted that it will save the federal government about $50 billion over 10 years, and would be, as its name implies optional–i.e. it’s not a “government takeover” of health care.

Late update: To the chagrin of chairman Max Baucus, Rockefeller is lambasting the insurance industry, and citing a number of ways other health care reform bills do a better job at reining in their excesses. He cited insurance industry whistleblower Wendell Potter, who said that, without a public option, health care reform legislation might as well be named the “Insurance Industry Profit Protection Act.”

The House bill, Rockefeller noted, would place strict limits on the so-called medical-loss ratio (i.e. percentage of each premium dollar that can go to profits, administrative costs, and other non-health care related activities.)

Late, late update: It’s worth mentioning that you can follow the hearing at this link.Late late late update: For a few moments there, Rockefeller was refusing to answer a simple question from Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). How does his amendment set payments to providers? It’s written clear as day: For the first two years his public option would be tied to Medicare, and thereafter, would set similar rates. He ultimately did offer that answer, but it’s unclear why he stalled. Maybe he needed a refresher?

Anyhow, Nelson’s vote on this will be telling. He seemed to be trying to divine the difference between a plan that sets rates (Rockefeller’s) and a plan that negotiates rates (Schumer’s). Let’s see what he does.

Festival of updates: Baucus is arguing that his co-op proposal would accomplish the same thing with respect to competition and accountability as a public option tied to Medicare. The CBO, and all other experts strongly disagree. But Rockefeller’s playing it polite for now.

11:14 a.m.: Chuck Grassley (who would like you all to know he doesn’t much care for President Obama) notes that many reformers would like the public option to be step one toward a single-payer system or something similar. While that’s true, such a public option isn’t really on offer anywhere in Congress, and most of the people who would indeed like the public option to be a slippery slope toward Canadian-style health care aren’t members of the Senate.

11:21 a.m.: Chuck Schumer calls out Grassley for attacking the public option on the grounds that it’s government run. So how does he explain his support for Medicare. Grassley fumbled that one a bit before reverting to the claim that the public option would put the country on a slippery slope to single payer. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) took strong exception to this, and asked for some sources. Grassley’s response? The very conservative Heritage Foundation and the insurance industry owned Lewin Group.

11:37 a.m.: Orrin Hatch has a peculiar, but common, argument against the public option: that it will be a huge public policy disaster that somehow becomes extremely popular and entrenched.

11:42 a.m.: Now Robert Menendez is speaking up, strongly in favor of the Rockefeller public option.

11:47 a.m.: A statement just in from Chuck Schumer, whose less-robust public option will be up for debate later today, makes the case for the “level playing field” plan: “After being set up by the government, the level playing field public option will have to stand on its own. No providers will be required to participate. And prices will be negotiated between the plan and providers. They will not be imposed. Although I support Senator Rockefeller’s public plan amendment, which is priced off of Medicare – this is the key difference between our approaches. The level playing field option does not set prices.” A preview of the argument to come.

11:55 a.m.: Conrad’s up. He calls his co-op model a “public interest” model, despite the fact that the CBO says his co-op plan would be a big bust. He’s also very mistakenly saying that the French health care system would be a bit like the Baucus bill with a non-profit option.

12:12 p.m.: Rockefeller seemed extremely displeased that Conrad tried to turn the debate into one about the merits of his co-op plan. Conrad sheepishly concluded his remarks

12:19 p.m.: Bingaman opposes Rockefeller’s public option on the grounds that it’s tied to Medicare for two years, though he supports ‘other versions’ (i.e. Schumer’s)

12:26 p.m.: Schumer’s up. He’s the man behind the other public option amendment, though as I noted above, he says he supports Rockefeller’s proposal, too.

12:32 p.m.: Schumer incorrectly asserts that the House’s public option would be permanently tied to Medicare. Things are fluid over there, but the Ways & Means and Education & Labor committees passed a public option that would be temporarily tied to Medicare.

12:38 p.m.: Here’s a key exchange between Schumer and Grassley from about an hour ago. Note Grassley–government program foe–calls Medicare part of the “social fabric of America.”

12:45 p.m.: John Ensign (R-NV) attacks public option citing the insurance-company backed Lewin group and the insurance industry’s professional association AHIP. He also repeats an earlier argument that if you don’t count deaths from automobile accidents and gunshots, the United States actually has better health care outcomes than other countries. Not exactly a winning statistic, I don’t think, and probably accident victims would like to think their health care system is primed to provide them life-saving care. But hey! Socialism!

12:54 p.m.: Jon Kyl (R-AZ) is up. He, like all Republicans, opposes the public option.

1:04 p.m.: Debbie Stabenow pushes back on the general conservative idea that government run programs are bad, and issues a spirited defense of the public option. Now they break for lunch, and so do I. Will resume with a fresh post at 1:45.

Editor’s Note: The next TPMDC liveblog on the Senate Finance Committee debate is here.

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