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Health Care Debate May Hinge on Public Insurance Option

House Democrats unveiled a draft health care reform bill Friday that includes a "public option" -- a government-run health insurance plan that would compete with private insurers. Betty Ann Bowser examines the debate over the public insurance concept.

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  • BETTY ANN BOWSER, NewsHour Correspondent:

    House Democrats unveiled their blueprint for reforming the country's health care system today, capping off a week in which prospects for health care reform were dealt a series of blows.

  • REP. HENRY WAXMAN, D-CALIF.:

    The draft is a very practical one, and it's a uniquely American proposal. It builds on what works and fixes what needs to be fixed

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    The proposal is the work of three House committees. It includes: a mandate that all individuals obtain health insurance; a requirement that employers offer health care to workers; and it provides an exemption for small businesses.

    Leaders did not give any cost estimates, but said they were considering a number of ways to pay for it, among them: taxing sugary drinks and alcohol; raising income taxes on those earning more than $200,000 a year; and increasing the payroll tax on all U.S. workers.

    Perhaps the most contentious aspect of the House draft is the inclusion of a new public health insurance plan.

    Today, House Minority Leader John Boehner called the Democratic draft "nothing short of a government takeover of health care." Last week, he expressed his opposition to any public plan.

  • REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-OHIO:

    House Minority Leader: Listen, if you like going to the DMV and you think they do a great job or you like going to the post office and think it's the most efficient thing you've run into, then you'll love the government-run health care system that they're proposing, because that's basically what you're going to have.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    But today, House Ways and Means Chair Charles Rangel said having a public plan would bring fairness to the system.

  • REP. CHARLIE RANGEL, D-N.Y.:

    I'm anxious to take on those people who are opposing the public option. For those people who are afraid of competition, they shouldn't be in this business. This is what we're trying to do: make it an even playing field for all professionals to say they're getting better than a fair shake.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Meanwhile, in the Senate this week, legislators were forced to slow down after learning that the Congressional Budget Office put a price tag of $1.6 trillion on the Senate Finance Committee's initial plan, $600 billion more than was anticipated.

  • SEN. MAX BAUCUS, D- MONT.:

    It's really, at this point, when we'll be ready. I want to make sure that we have a complete package, but we're not there yet.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Details of a revised plan were leaked to reporters last night. It, too, has an individual mandate and expands Medicaid coverage.

    The new draft does not call for a government-run public insurance plan. Instead, the Senate Finance Committee is considering creation of a nonprofit co-op, to compete with private insurers.

    President Obama says he's open to all options, but continues to push for a public plan in speaking events.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    One of these options needs to be a public option that will give people a broader range of choices and inject competition into the health care markets.