Blanche Lincoln Justifies Opposition To Bill That Includes Public Option With Disingenuous Argument

NOTE: We are live-tweeting the Senate vote for cloture on the motion to proceed at @wonkroom.

In a dramatic and long winded speech on the floor of the Senate, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) announced today that she would provide the 60th vote “in support of cloture on the motion to proceed” to the health care reform bill. But Lincoln also stressed that she is “opposed to a new government administered health care plan as a part of health care reform and will not vote on the health care proposal introduced by leader Reid as it is written”:

I’ve already alerted the leader, and I’m promising my colleagues, that I’m prepared to vote against moving to the next stage of consideration as long as a government-run public option is included. The public option as a part of health insurance reform has attracted far more attention than it deserves. While cost projections show that it may reduce costs somewhat, those projections don’t take into account who pays if it fails to live up to expectations. If in fact premiums don’t cover the cost of the public plan, it is taxpayers in this country who are faced with the burden of bailing it out.

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The Senate bill requires that “the premiums for the public plan be set to fully fund expenditures for medical claims, administrative costs, and a contingency reserve” and instructs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate reimbursement rates with physicians. The Senate’s public option would save the government $3 billion over 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office has concluded.


Lincoln, who supported giving Americans the choice of enrolling in a public option as recently as July, is arguing that the option could ignore the letter of the law and charge premiums that would not cover the cost of the program. Her skepticism may be well-founded, but it’s also short-sighted and inconsistent. She is doubting the integrity of the public option, while tacitly assuming that private insurers — who have a long-standing practice of exploiting loopholes in the law and skimming on coverage for beneficiaries to increase profits — will follow the new benefit and rate regulations. Lincoln supports ‘building on the current system’ and regulating private insurers without questioning their commitment to “live up to expectations.”

Ultimately, if she’s is worried that the language of the health care bill won’t be properly implemented, she should encourage the Senate to establish a federal oversight mechanism that could force private health insurance companies and the public plan to abide by the new rules of reform. As it stands now, her objection to the public plan sounds rather manufactured and hypocritical.