Nine of the ten Republicans from the Senate Finance Committee, one of the two panels responsible for health care legislation, wrote to Mr. Obama to express their opposition to a government-sponsored health insurance plan -- or a "public option." The only Republican senator from the committee who refrained from signing the letter is moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).
"At a time when major government programs like Medicare and Medicaid are already on a path to fiscal insolvency, creating a brand new government program will not only worsen our long term financial outlook but also negatively impact American families who enjoy the private coverage of their choice," the letter says. "Forcing free market plans to compete with these government-run programs would create an unlevel playing field and inevitably doom true competition."
The letter conveyed a concern of many conservatives -- that a public option would utlimately lead to a "federal government takeover of our healthcare system."
The senators cite a recent Lewin Group study, which showed that a public plan using Medicare payment levels could result in a shift of coverage -- private coverage could decline by 119.1 million as people voluntarily move from private to public coverage. The letter says the plan would "result in 119.1 million Americans losing their private coverage."
The senators also cite the recent Milliman study, which estimated that the cost-shifting from government payers (specifically Medicare and Medicaid) costs families with private insurance nearly $1800 more per year. The study was prepared at the request of America's Health Insurance Plans, the American Hospital Association, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and Premera Blue Cross.
The public option is one of the most contentious pieces of the health care legislation currently under discussion; Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, began circulating a draft last week of his committee's bill, which includes a public plan, among other significant changes to the nation's health care. President Obama last week said he "strongly supports" the public plan.
While Republicans are strongly opposed to the proposal, the leaders of four prominent Democratic groups in Congress have said their support for health care legislation hinges on the inclusion of a public plan.
The goals of health care reform -- expanded access, improved quality and reduced costs -- are shared by both Democrats and Republicans. In their letter, the senators say "ensuring access to affordable, quality and portable health care for every American is not a Republican or Democrat issue - it is an American issue."
As lawmakers work out the details of the legislation, however, cooperation may prove difficult, as evidenced by the impassioned remarks on Twitter from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, regarding President Obama's leadership on the issue.
"Pres Obama you got nerve while u sightseeing in Paris to tell us 'time to deliver' on health care. We still on skedul/even workinWKEND," Grassley tweeted.