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Public Plan for Health Care Bill Is Choice of House Democrats, Pelosi Says

By Edward Epstein, CQ Staff

June 11, 2009 -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that House Democrats strongly want a government-run insurance plan to be part of any health care overhaul, while top House Republicans said they are unalterably opposed to such a public component.

"In our caucus, members have been very clear about what their concerns are about a public option, and I agree," Pelosi told reporters. "It should be actuarily sound. It should be administratively self-sufficient. It should be a competitor with the private sector and not have an unfair advantage."

The California Democrat called for a "level playing field" for public and private health care providers.

"In our House, there is strong support for a public option and great respect for concerns that have been raised within our caucus," she added.

And Pelosi wouldn't close the door on a suggestion from the Senate that public health insurance co-operatives be created, instead of a government-run plan. But she said such an option should not be "instead of a public plan."

House GOP leaders warned that if Democrats persist in including a public plan in health care legislation, they will campaign vigorously against it.

"If a government-run plan is a competitor, pretty soon you'll have no other competition," said Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who heads the party's House health care working group.

He said the federal government will always have an unfair advantage over the private sector. Such a plan "will drive people away from the coverage they have now," he said, and lead to rationing of health care and medical decisions made by government bureaucrats.

"We need more competition, not less," he added.

Minority Leader John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, was more direct. "I'm opposed to a government option, period."

Blunt said that Democrats have used a sense of urgency for passing a bill this summer as a distraction from their goal of creating a government-run health system. "It's a bum's rush," he said, "hoping to sneak a government takeover of health care through."

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