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Nelson: All states need public option

By Carol Gentry
10/23/2009 © Health News Florida

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson isn't really "comfortable" with the idea of letting states opt out of including a public plan in national health reform, his spokesman said today. The public plan would compete with private insurers in an exchange where the formerly uninsured could shop for coverage.

The Florida senator is “worried insurers would just be able to lobby state governments to block a public option,” said spokesman Dan McLaughlin. ”His discomfort stems in part from his time as insurance commissioner in the 1990s, when he saw first-hand the power the industry’s lobby wielded in the Florida Legislature.”

He said Nelson still prefers the nationwide public-option plan offered by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, during the markup in the Senate Finance Committee. That amendment was defeated Sept. 29 when three moderate-to-conservative Democrats joined Republicans in voting against it.

The version that passed omitted a public plan. But the House bills all include a public option.

Now sentiment is building in the Senate for a compromise version of the public plan, one that would let states opt out, according to today’s Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

(Editor’s note: the Post and WSJ stories mention that Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska opposes the public plan entirely – a position at odds with that of Bill Nelson.)

The “level playing field” proposal that Florida’s Bill Nelson still supports would establish a public plan that would compete with insurers in a health exchange accessible to the formerly uninsured. It would have to cover its own expenses through premiums without relying on any taxpayer funds.

Even Schumer, who proposed the “level playing field” version of the public plan, is going along with the compromise version that would let states opt out, the Post reports.

But then, Schumer’s from New York, a state where the public option would have a chance of passing the Assembly. In Florida, the legislature has been in conservative Republican hands for years; the GOP has uniformly condemned all proposals containing a public option.