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Lee, Woolsey Push for Public Option

by Patrick O'Connor

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), in the background, and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) in this Capitol Hill file photo. Both Congresswomen have vowed to fight back against the Senate version of healthcare reform that was passed today. (WDCpix) eve of a historic health care vote in the Senate, liberal Democrats in the House have launched a full-throated defense of the public option — a sign of battles to come when party leaders try to meld the two bills.

“Now that the Senate is poised to pass its version of a health care reform bill, it is time to turn to reconciling it with the House legislation," California Reps. Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey said in a joint statement Wednesday. “For Congress to achieve true health care reform we must have a meaningful conference process that integrates both bills into the best possible piece of legislation for the American people."

Their top priorities:

"A public option — If the bill requires people to buy health insurance, there must be a public option to bring down costs by providing lower-cost competition to private insurers and choice to consumers."

"Affordability protections — The legislation must protect lower and middle-income individuals by ensuring that subsidies make coverage affordable and that Medicaid patients have access to primary care physicians."

"Tighter market regulations — New regulations must keep premiums reasonable and end abusive practices. Insurance companies should no longer be exempt from anti-trust laws and any premium increases must be reviewed before they take effect."

“Employer mandates — If individuals are required to buy insurance, employers should be required to provide it.

“Tax surcharges — Health care reform should be financed by tax surcharges on the wealthy not excise taxes on health insurance plans offered to many workers and union members.

They're not as critical of the Senate package as New York Rep. Louise Slaughter; Lee and Woolsey, who serve as chairwomen of the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus, respectively, even go out of their way to thank the Senate majority leader and Sens. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) for adding a provision on health care disparities and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for helping to secure $10 billion for community health centers.

But it's clear that they're not going to roll over, as some senators have suggested they should. “We look forward to working with the House and Senate leadership to ensure that the final legislation provides affordable and comprehensive health care to people who need it.”

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