Senator Tom Harkin told a crowd of nearly 2,000 people today that health care reform including a public health insurance option will pass before this Christmas. Speaking at his 32nd Annual Steak Fry in Indianola, Harkin joked,
"This is my kind of town-hall meeting," [...] because he didn't see any Republicans standing up to say, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare."
Harkin and event headliner Al Franken predicted that health care reform would pass with some Republican votes, which seems unlikely if the final version of the bill contains a public option. Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine has been the focus of White House courting on health care, but she opposes a public option, apparently because it has the potential to provide lower-cost health insurance.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions passed a bill this summer containing a public option, but according to one critic, the HELP bill's public option is anything but robust:
the actual provisions in the HELP Committee bill call for numerous "community health insurance options," not the single "Medicare-like" plan promised by "public option" advocates. That means the individual "options" will probably be as small and weak as the co-ops now under discussion in the Senate Finance Committee. More importantly, these "community options" will almost certainly be run by insurance companies.
The public option in the bill that cleared the House Energy and Commerce Committee, HR 3200, is also weak in several respects.
President Barack Obama met with 17 relatively conservative Democratic senators on Thursday, reinforcing many people's fears that he was ready to discard the public option. The same day, Harkin assured the Progressive Populist blog that 51 votes can be found in the Senate for a bill with a public option.
So what about all the hubub about the Blue Dogs and/or Progressives opting out if the bill doesn't meet their liking? Harkin said don't put too much stock in those statements.
"Look, around here people are always jockeying for power. That's all this is," Harkin said.
The only chance of making this bill stronger, in my opinion, is getting a large bloc of House Democrats to draw a line in the sand. If you live in Iowa's first, second or third Congressional districts, please contact Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack or Leonard Boswell to urge them not to accept any bill containing a "trigger" (which is guaranteed to fail) or some other fake public health insurance option. Organizing for America has a new petition out if you prefer that method of generating an e-mail to your member of Congress.
UPDATE: Don't miss John Deeth's entertaining liveblog from this event, with lots of photos. Braley and Loebsack praised Boswell for standing up for a public option (unlike many Blue Dogs).
Boswell and fellow Democratic U.S. Reps. Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack also expressed optimism that a final bill would include measures to reform medicare reimbursement rates. Medicare currently pays doctors in rural states like Iowa less than what doctors in densely populated states receive for the same procedures.