A government-run public option is not likely to be included in the final health care reform bill, said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, at a meeting of business officials Tuesday.
Nelson addressed the Chamber of Southwest Florida at Edison State College on a myriad of political issues - the recession, health care reform and off-shore drilling - and said that even though he is a Democrat he's not supporting the public option recently passed by the House of Representatives.
"At the end of the day, a public plan is not going to pass the Senate," he said. "That is why the Senate version will basically be close to what is the final result that will ultimately go to the president for his signature."
Unlike the House, which only requires a vote of 50 percent plus one to pass a bill, the Senate needs 60 votes, he said.
The Senate approved open debate for the 2,074-page bill with tight margins of 60-39 last Saturday, yet Nelson said it will never receive that support if the public option stays in.
"You can't get 60 votes for a public plan. If you had a public plan, the maximum a public plan would cover is no more than 2 percent of all American citizens and yet the way it has dominated the debate you would think that is the only thing that is important," he said.
Nelson said healthcare needs to be reformed to cap the rising costs of Medicare and Medicaid. Furthermore, 46 million people are estimated to have no insurance and simply preventing those people from using expensive emergency rooms for primary care would lower costs immediately.
The focus of the bill is to create a health care exchange where private insurers compete for those Americans without coverage, as well as prevent insurance companies from denying people for preexisting conditions.
Senators are working from now to Christmas Eve to make changes to the bill and get the 60 votes necessary for approval. If it doesn't happen by that date, Nelson said they will try again starting in January.
Some other initiatives in the bill include helping hospitals and physician offices to increase efficiency by using electronic records and increasing compensation for family physicians so they can monitor patient care more closely. This means that specialists, such as cardiologists or oncologists, won't receive as much reimbursement as in the past.
"The American people and U.S. government can't continue to absorb the cost of increases of healthcare unless we change the system," said Nelson.
During his address in Fort Myers, Nelson also discussed the public health issue of local homes with imported, defective drywall.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission released a study showing a "strong association" between the defective drywall and the corrosion of pipes and wires.
A subsequent report said there is only a "possible" link between the hydrogen sulfide gas and respiratory problems.
The Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have yet to find a direct link between the gas and health problems.
"The EPA and CDC still can't draw a link between the respiratory problems and the out-gassing," said Nelson.
He added that common sense shows a link between the "out-gassing" and the respiratory problems.
Approximately 1,400 homes in Florida have reported issues with defective drywall and as many as 60,000 homes were likely built with that type of drywall. Federal officials are trying to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide temporary housing for Florida residents living in a home with defective drywall.
"They can't get their mortgage company to work with them, the insurance company says they are responsible, and the home builder can't help them because he is broke," said Nelson. "And where do they turn?"