Sen. Wyden: Public Option Could be ‘Health Care Ghetto’

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: With the Senate taking its first votes on health care amendments today, the bill continues to get squeezed -- from both sides of the political spectrum.

Even as some moderate Democrats join some Republicans in calling for the “public option” to be stripped out of the bill, other leading Democratic voices are trying to expand the reach of the new public insurance entity that would be created under the measure.

On’s “Top Line” today, Sen. Ron Wyden , D-Ore., said he wants the public option to be made available to a much larger number of people. Without opening it up to those who currently have insurance, he said, the public option won’t really compete effectively with private insurers, since it will be stuck only with the unhealthiest customers.

“I do think that the end game is holding insurance companies accountable. My concern is you can’t let the public option be something of a health care ghetto,” said Wyden, who has long been an advocate of expanding health care choices.

“Right now it looks like the folks that are going to be getting into it are people that haven’t had insurance. The evidence shows that those are folks who didn’t get check-ups, didn’t get prevention, didn’t get chronic care of maintenance,” Wyden said.

“United Healthcare has more than 50 million subscribers, according to their Website; they’re not going to be quaking in their boots if you just have a health care ghetto. So the challenge now is to create some efficient private and public choices to hold the insurance companies accountable, get a better premium deal for the consumer.”

Wyden said he’s working closely with Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and other colleagues to find a new version of a public option that will have the support of 60 senators. Those negotiations, however, seem more likely to lead to watering-down of the public option, rather than the more robust version Wyden is pressing for.

“The bottom line is you need choices -- public choices and private choices to hold the insurance companies accountable. It’s choice and competition that for the long term is going to hold premiums down,” Wyden said. “I have long felt that the ultimate goal here is for each consumer in this country to in effect be able to give an ultimatum to their insurance company. That ultimatum ought to be, ‘Treat me right or I am taking my business elsewhere.’ ”

Wyden, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, also said he’s “skeptical” of President Obama’s plan to send 30,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan.

“I’m going to wait to get a classified briefing. But at this point I am skeptical about the idea, [that] the 10s of thousands of additional troops, billions of dollars can help us achieve the president’s stated goal, and to have an enduring impact on reducing terrorism and the threat in that area.”

We also got the latest on the White House party-crashers’ story with Nia-Malika Henderson, who has been covering the story extensively for Politico.

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