- The Washington Times - Monday, October 26, 2009

Top Senate Democrats plan to pursue a health-care-overhaul bill with a government-run health-insurance program that allows states to opt out if they choose, setting the stage for what could be a bumpy road to passage.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Monday he sent a reform bill with the plan to the Congressional Budget Office for a cost estimate, but wouldn’t say whether he has the votes yet to pass the bill in the Senate.

“I believe we clearly will have the support of my caucus,” he said. “I believe a public option can achieve the goal of bringing meaningful reform to a broken system.”

He cited public opinion polls that suggest Americans favor establishing a public health-insurance plan designed to compete with private insurers. Mr. Reid’s bill is a melding of two separate bills passed by the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Moderate Democrats have been skeptical of the plan, and many have said they will reserve judgment until they see the legislation.

The bill likely will have no Republican support. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, the only Republican who voted for a reform bill in committee, has told the majority leader she won’t support the bill, Mr. Reid said. She favored a plan that would have encouraged private insurers to lower costs by threatening the creation of a public plan, with a “trigger” if the insurers failed to deliver.

Mr. Reid said states will be allowed to opt out of the plan in 2014. He provided few details on what states would have to do to get out of the plan.

The House of Representatives is working on its own parallel bill, which is expected to have a much stronger public-option plan.

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