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Klobuchar, Franken see progress in Minnesota priorities on health-care legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — If she gets the key changes she wants, Minnesota’s senior Sen. Amy Klobuchar indicated today that she will support the opt-out public option in health care reform legislation. Both she and Sen.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — If she gets the key changes she wants, Minnesota’s senior Sen. Amy Klobuchar indicated today that she will support the opt-out public option that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said will be included in the Senate version of the health care reform legislation.

“I have always been positive about the public option as long as we do the kind of Medicare cost reform that I’d like to see, and I think that we are trending toward doing that … so I think we are going in the right direction,” Klobuchar told MinnPost in an interview.

She specified, however, that she still needed to make sure that “it works for Minnesota.”

“I have always said that it’s all dependent on Medicare cost reform,” the Democrat said.

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Meanwhile, Minnesota’s junior Sen. Al Franken, who has been an adamant supporter of a government-run public insurance option, said today that he would back Reid’s proposal, which would give states the choice to opt out of offering the plan.

“I think it is probably a good compromise so that states that want to opt out can opt out,” said the Democrat, who added that he would still prefer a public option like the kind being discussed in the House that does not include an “opt-out” provision.

“I would prefer the [choice] of a public option for everyone,” Franken said. “This is like an option option.”

Like Klobuchar, Franken is also optimistic that the Medicare payment reforms that were added to the Senate Finance Committee’s version of the bill last month would ultimately make it to the Senate floor.

“It is going to be in,” Franken said when asked whether the inclusion of Medicare payment reforms would be a deal-breaker for him.

“I think that everyone understands this,” he added. “They really do. This isn’t just a health insurance reform bill. This is a health care reform bill, and we have to reform the way we deliver health care.”

The Medicare payment reform changes are intended to benefit states like Minnesota that provide high-quality, low-cost care. Minnesota Democratic Reps. Betty McCollum and Tim Walz announced last week that the House version of the health care bill would include two studies that would seek to change the current fee-for-service system to one that rewards quality and outcomes. The current system puts states like Minnesota at a disadvantage.

Over the last several months, Klobuchar has declined to come down specifically for, or against, the public option, indicating that Medicare payment reform would be key to her support. (In some versions of the bill in the House, the public option would pay according to the Medicare payment formula.)

Klobuchar has previously indicated that part of the rationale behind her position has been strategic.

“If you say ‘yes’ and don’t see the changes you want, that doesn’t get you very far,” Klobuchar said in last month. “You would give up any power to change it.”

As Senate leaders and the White House continue to work to combine the bills that came out of the Senate Health Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, it appears that Minnesota’s senators will indeed see some of their key requests materialize in the bill that moves to the Senate floor.

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In addition to lobbying for the Medicare payment fixes, the senators also have rallied against a provision in the bill that would require that medical-device makers pay $40 billion in fees over 10 years.

Medical-device manufacturers represent one of the largest industries in Minnesota.

“I think we are headed in a good direction with that,” Klobuchar said today.

Franken concurred, saying that he believed there would ultimately be “a reduction in the tax.”

“It [the tax] won’t go to zero …,” Franken said. “But it will go to some kind of compromise.”

Reid needs 60 votes to bring the bill to the Senate floor for debate where it will face another 60-vote threshold to end debate and force a vote. Passage then requires only 51 votes.

Franken said today he would be an “emphatic yes” on moving the bill forward to the Senate floor.

“I most likely will be yes,” Klobuchar said, cautioning that she wanted to make sure the medical device tax issues were resolved.

Reid, however, faces far bigger hurdles than the demands of Minnesota’s senators.

Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who caucuses with the Democrats, said today that he would likely vote to bring the bill to the floor but would back a Republican filibuster if the plan includes a public option — even one with an opt-out provision.

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Meanwhile, moderate Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas have expressed skepticism on the plan

Lincoln said today that she would prefer a program run by a nonprofit group instead of the government.