The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday rejected two amendments to include a government-run public health insurance option in the only compromise health care bill so far. It's one of the many road blocks the plan has faced and the White House is trying to get some Republicans on board.
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/09/30/collins.susan.art.jpg caption="Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) says so far she hasn't seen a health care bill that accomplishes what she thinks needs to be done."]
Senator Susan Collins of Maine is one of those Republicans whose support is being sought by the White House. She spoke to John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Wednesday. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.
John Roberts: We were talking off camera. You said you don't recall seeing times like these. There is so much going on.
Susan Collins: There is. I can't remember another time when there were more important issues on the table. You've got the two wars, a major decision coming up in Afghanistan, the health care debate, a faltering economy, the need for financial reform, environmental legislation, the cap-and-trade bill. It's just an enormous array of issues, all of which are extremely important.
Roberts: This morning let's take a narrow slice of all of that and talk about health care reform. Are you going to be able to vote for health care reform, do you think?
Collins: John, I want to vote for a health care bill but so far I haven't seen one that accomplishes what I think needs to be done. And that is to really focus on the cost of health care. It's the cost of health care that's the biggest barrier to the uninsured and causes such a struggle for middle income families and small businesses.
Roberts: So you say cost is the central concern that you have. Proponents of this public option have said that's one really good way to lower costs. You don't like the public option, you don't like this idea that your fellow senator, Olympia Snowe, is proposing about a trigger to a public option. So what do you do?
Collins: There is so much that we could do. For example, we could allow small businesses to band together to boost their purchasing power. We could pass medical liability reform. That would have a direct impact on cost. We could revamp the Medicare reimbursement system so that it focuses on quality rather than quantity. That would help reduce unnecessary tests. We could provide tax credits for small businesses so they could help insure their employees. There is a lot that unites us and I think that's what our focus should be.
Roberts: Now, if you were to adopt all of the measures that you have just outlined there, how much do you think it would reduce in America the number of people who are currently uninsured?
Collins: Well, 82% of the uninsured are in families where someone works. They either work themselves or they work for small businesses that can't afford to provide health insurance, or they are self employed. So that's where I would start. And from my conversations with many small business men and women, I'm convinced that if we gave them a generous tax credit they would provide health insurance for their employees. That would substantially reduce the number of uninsured Americans.
Roberts: I know that you are a very sought after vote there in the Senate, the White House is certainly pitching you hard. Give us some idea – a behind the scenes look at the sales pitches. How hard are they wooing you here?
Collins: Well, I appreciate that the White House has reached out to me. I've had great discussions with the director of office of management and budget, with Nancy-Anne DeParle the White House adviser, with Rahm Emanuel and I hope we can get to “yes.” I would like to see a bipartisan bill that makes a real difference in reforming health care to expand access and to lower costs, without greatly growing the role of the federal government. I don't think that that's what the people are looking for.