Sanders Disappointed With Health Care Reform Bill
11/19/09 5:50PM By Bob Kinzel  Download MP3
(Host) Senator Bernie Sanders says he's disappointed with a number of elements of a new Democratic health care reform bill.
And Sanders, who is one of two independent members of the Senate, is telling the Democrats that he might vote against their bill if steps aren't taken to strengthen the legislation.
VPR's Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) Sanders' vote could be important to the Democrats in case some conservative members of the party decide to oppose the final bill.
The legislation expands eligibility in Medicaid, offers premium subsidies to middle income people and prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage based on a person's medical history.
The bill also calls for the creation of a new public option program but it allows states to "opt out" of the program.
The legislation is paid for by increasing payroll taxes on people who earn more than $200,000 a year, taxing expensive health care policies and future reductions in Medicare.
Sanders, who favors a single payer system, says he's not enthusiastic about this bill.
(Sanders) "We're going to have to make it a lot stronger...this leaves the private insurance companies intact and in fact stronger with providing more coverage to more Americans. So I worry very much long term about cost containment and how much we as a nation will continue to be spending on health care."
(Kinzel) Sanders says he wants to change several parts of the bill starting with the "opt out" provision of the public option program.
(Sanders) "It is quite likely if you give them the opportunity to opt out, they may opt out. And people in their state who are most in need of a strong public option will not have that choice and I think that that is unfortunate."
(Kinzel) The legislation requires that all individuals have health insurance coverage or pay a penalty.
Without a strong public option, Sanders says the individual mandate makes no sense.
(Sanders) "If you're saying to somebody ‘you must have health insurance and you're going to have to go into a private health insurance company who's only function in life is to try to make as much money as possible', I don't that's fair - I think that's wrong."
(Kinzel) Sanders says he's sending a clear message to the Democrats - he'll back their efforts to bring the bill to the floor for a vote - but he's not committed to supporting the final bill.
(Sanders) "I will vote to move the process along but I am going to be playing a very active role in making this a strong, effective and meaningful piece of legislation. And if at the end of the day it isn't my vote for this is not at all guaranteed."
(Kinzel) Sanders says he's not trying to coordinate his efforts with the Senate's other independent member - Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, because Sanders says the two men have vastly different and often opposing positions on health care reform.
For VPR News, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.