Harkin and Loebsack support public option in health care reform

Congress will begin making important decisions on health care policy very soon. The Senate Finance Committee began drafting a health care bill a few days ago.

I was glad to see two Iowans among the representatives and senators who urged colleagues this week to include a strong public option in any health care reform plan.

After the jump I have more on where Congressman Dave Loebsack and Senator Tom Harkin stand on health care, as well as the benefits of creating a public health insurance option.

UPDATE: Thanks to Populista for reminding me that all Iowa Democrats in Congress (Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack, Leonard Boswell and Tom Harkin) have signed on to support Health Care for America Now’s core principles for health care reform.

On April 28, four House caucuses sent a joint letter to President Obama and Congressional leaders to make clear that "our support for enacting legislation this year to guarantee affordable health care for all firmly hinges on the inclusion of a robust public health insurance plan like Medicare." Click here to read the press release issued by the Progressive Caucus, the Black Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus, and the Asian Pacific American Caucus. Excerpt:

“The American people are united in declaring that our health care system is broken, and that we need to fix it,” said Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, Co-Chair of the CPC.  “With this letter, more than a 100 Members of Congress are sending a message that we share the public’s outrage, and that we are committed to confronting this problem and developing a health care system that doesn’t leave anyone out.  That’s why we need to make certain that any final healthcare reform legislation includes the option of a public health insurance plan to ensure that everyone has access to high quality, affordable care.”

“For too long, insurance companies have dictated the quality, quantity, and accessibility of healthcare to the American people,” said Congressman Mike Honda, Chair of Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC). “A robust public health insurance plan will ensure true competition with those companies that reap egregious profits, and will present the opportunity to make deep, lasting changes in our healthcare system. A public plan will also provide a framework to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities in some of the most underserved communities.”

Representative Loebsack is the only Iowan in the Progressive Caucus, whose leaders went on record a few weeks ago saying most members of the caucus will not vote for any health care bill that does not contain a public option. Loebsack was less categorical in a statement his office sent me on April 22:

“When it comes to health care, there are many options and solutions on the table. I support a strong public option so that we can increase access to quality, affordable health care,” said Congressman Loebsack. “There are too many people drawing arbitrary lines in the sand, and we all need to work together to move the conversation forward. That’s why I think forums and talking to my constituents is so vital to crafting a comprehensive healthcare plan.”

Loebsack’s position is sensible, but I am glad to see the leaders of four caucuses signal that their members will not settle for health care reform like the program that has failed in Massachusetts.

I hope that Congressman Bruce Braley’s Populist Caucus will take a similar stand. “Providing affordable, accessible, quality health care to all Americans” is one of the six main goals Braley has set for the caucus. Another Populist Caucus goal is “protecting consumers,” and a public health insurance plan would give consumers more protection from the whims of private insurers. Moreover, quite a few founding Populist Caucus members also belong to the Progressive Caucus.

On the other hand, some Populist Caucus members also belong to the New Democrats caucus, which leans toward the pro-corporate position on some issues. That may make it hard for the Populist Caucus to reach consensus on health care. I am seeking comment on this from Braley’s office. I would hate to see the Populist Caucus stay on the sidelines during this year’s critical health care debate.

A coalition supporting a public option is taking shape in the Senate as well. On Wednesday 16 senators who caucus with Democrats, including Tom Harkin, signed a letter to Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus:

“As members of key committees and leaders on health care issues, we write to support a public plan option as a core component of this reform,” the letter said. “There is no reason to believe that private insurers alone will meet the public purpose of ensuring coverage for all Americans at affordable prices for taxpayers.”

A public plan option “would provide competition to the sometimes dysfunctional private insurance market,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who originated the letter, said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. […]

Brown said that even with strong insurance market reforms designed to prevent health plans from denying coverage or charging sky-high premiums to people with preexisting conditions, a public plan remains necessary. “Insurance companies have a reputation of staying one step ahead of the sheriff,” he said.

Republicans, along with healthcare and business interests, oppose the public plan option. The contend that the plan will muscle out private insurers by cutting payment rates to medical providers in order to charge lower premiums, and will lead to the federal government dominating the insurance market.

One Democratic senator, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, came out this week against any public option as part of health care reform. Jason Rosenbaum of Health Care for America Now has more on Nelson’s talking points and ties to the insurance industry. Fortunately, we don’t need Nelson’s vote, because President Obama is committed to making health care reform part of the budget reconciliation process (so it cannot be filibustered).

I am glad to see Harkin standing with the Democrats pushing health care reform in the right direction.

Please share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: Moveon.org is holding an “emergency online briefing” about health care reform, featuring Howard Dean:

Emergency Online Briefing with Dr. Dean

Monday, May 4, 9pm Eastern

Hosted on MoveOn.org’s web site at:


Last time Democrats tried to pass comprehensive healthcare reform, it failed. And it failed in part because the opposition was better organized and spread a bunch of lies that progressives weren’t prepared to rebut.

It’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen again. We need all hands on deck, well-armed with the critical information, and motivated to keep the right from blocking real change. Dr. Dean will give us an update and inside look at the battle for real healthcare reform — and the key actions we’ll take to achieve a historic victory.

With an important Senate committee meeting on Tuesday to start shaping legislation, plus the right wing’s escalating attacks, this couldn’t be more urgent.

I’ll be part of the emergency briefing, and I really hope you can join me at this crucial moment. Join us online Monday night at 9pm Eastern — that’s 8pm Central, 7pm Mountain, and 6pm Pacific — this way everyone in the country can join us at the same time.


SECOND UPDATE: As I noted upthread, all Iowa Democrats in Congress (Braley, Loebsack, Boswell and Harkin) have signed on to support Health Care for America Now’s core principles for health care reform. I am glad to see some Democrats reminding leadership that a public option is a high priority.

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