‘Top Line’ — Sen. Wyden: Lack of Choice in Health Care Bill Doesn’t Pass ‘Smell Test’

Oct 15, 2009 2:36pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: Almost lost in the coverage of Sen. Olympia Snowe’s decision to vote for the Senate Finance Committee’s health care bill was Sen. Ron Wyden’s favorable vote — a slight surprise, since Wyden had been critical of what he sees as major shortcomings in the measure. While Wyden, D-Ore., ultimately joined Snowe and all the committee’s Democrats in voting yes, he — like Snowe — is serving notice that he may not support the final product. On ABCNews.com’s “Top Line” today, Wyden renewed his call to inject more choice into the health care system by allowing individuals — not just small businesses — to buy into the new “insurance exchanges” that would be created by the bill. Intriguingly, Wyden used the White House’s own calls for ensuring choice in the health care system in making his case. “I’ve made it very clear that when the White House and particularly [Press Secretary] Robert Gibbs talks about choice and competition about three times an hour, and then you have a bill that we’re told leaves 90 percent of the American people outside the marketplace — outside the exchanges — after seven years, that’s not going to pass the smell test,” Wyden told us. “At every single rally you hear politicians stand up and say the American people ought to have choices like their member of Congress, and of course that’s what holds the insurance industry accountable,” Wyden said. “And under this bill not only are most Americans not going to have choices like members of Congress, they aren’t going to get any choice at all, even when their insurance company is abusing them.” Wyden is a longtime proponent of a different means of pursuing universal health coverage, encapsulated in a bill — the Healthy Americans Act, co-sponsored with Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah — that emphasizes individual choice over the current employer-based system. Unless the current bill achieves a similar level of choice for individuals, Wyden said he won’t support it. “I am trying to export the key principles of the Healthy Americans Act, particularly choice and competition, holding insurance companies accountable so the consumer gets more affordable coverage, to the final bill. And without that, the final bill is not going to have my support,” Wyden said. Wyden’s amendment to open up the insurance exchanges to individuals was set aside in a parliamentary dispute in the Finance Committee — a fact that irked Wyden. He’s still trying to include that component in the final bill, and yesterday engaged in an unusual Senate floor discussion with Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., that strongly suggested that a deal is in the works. Wyden told us today: “I think we got our foot in the door, and I’ve talked at length with Chairman Baucus about it, with Chairman [Chris] Dodd, Senator [Harry] Reid,” the Senate majority leader. Watch the full interview with Sen. Ron Wyden HERE. We also chatted with Christina Bellantoni of Talking Points Memo about the pressures being applied by the political left in the health care debate, in addition to President Obama’s (brief) trip to New Orleans today. We also got her take on the “Goatee Gamble” pitting ABC Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper against NBC’s Chuck Todd, with the Phillies-Dodgers playoff series (maybe) carrying bearded repercussions. “Now I have a reason to care about baseball. I think Chuck could use a new look so you know, go Phillies,” Bellantoni said. Click HERE for the full discussion with Christina Bellantoni.  

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