Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), one of the key drivers of health care reform in the Senate, said Tuesday that he would not be able to vote for the proposal put forward by Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) if it remains in its current form or anything like it.
"The way it is now, there's no way I can vote for the Senate [Finance] package for a lot of reasons," Rockefeller said on a conference call with reporters. "Obviously, the lack of a public option is one of them."
Furthermore, he said, he doubts the Baucus plan will win the support of the three Republicans Baucus has courted all year.
"I don't think he will" get their votes, he said, "but, that's not important for this discussion."
Instead, the senator focused on a host of issues he has with the Baucus proposal, starting with the absence of a government-run health care plan, or "public option." He said that he will introduce an amendment in the Finance Committee to attach a public option to the plan.
The senator called Baucus' proposal to set up nonprofit cooperatives -- which have been touted as an alternative to the public plan -- "an absolutely ridiculous idea." He plans to release a report today on why co-ops are a bad alternative.
"I'm very skeptical about setting up a system that doesn't work," he said.
Rockefeller also said "Medicaid is a huge factor," in part because the state children's health insurance program that is currently a part of Medicaid would be "relegated" to the proposed health insurance exchange. He also said the proposed taxes on insurers for offering plans worth more than $8,000 would have a "massively" negative impact on his state. Similarly, he excoriated the Baucus plan for not subjecting large insurance plans to consumer protections.
Rockefeller is the chair of the health care subcommittee in the Senate Finance Committee, the group led by Baucus. He noted that he has served on the committee with Baucus for 22 years and is one of Baucus' best friends among the Democrats in the committee.
Still, Rockefeller has been shut out of the secretive "gang of six" negotiations, in which Baucus has worked with two other Democrats and three Republicans to create a bipartisan bill. Baucus released a framework for reform based on those negotiations that he plans to introduce as legislation as early as Wednesday, regardless of whether he wins Republican support or not.
Both Democrats and Republicans in the Finance Comittee plan to request a number of amendments to the proposal.
Some congressmen have said it would be nearly impossible for Congress to pass a bill with a public option, but Rockefeller on Tuesday suggested some Democrats who have wavered on the issue may ultimately support the provision.
"It's amazing what happens when it comes down to crunch time, when people really have to go on record," he said. "During the summer you talk, you kind of dig your heels in... but when it comes down to the point where you actually start voting and amendments come up and it's for the record, then things can shift."
He said there are now probably about five or six Democrats in the Finance Committee who support a public option.
Rockefeller said Baucus' proposal to tax health insurers for plans they offer that are worth more than $8,000 would "massively" impact the coal mining industry and other sectors in his state of West Virginia.
Baucus "should understand that virtually every single coal miner will have a big, big tax put on them," Rockefeller said, adding that the tax "raises $200 billion, so I understand the temptation."
The senator also took issue with the fact that Baucus' framework only create market regulations for "small group" and individual health insurance markets until 2017, when they would be phased in for "large groups." That means health care plans offered to companies with 100 or more people would not have to follow rules, such as the rule prohibiting the denial of coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, until as late as 2022.
"Almost half of workers in West Virginia are not going to have any insurance protection" under that plan, Rockefeller said.
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