Lieberman ‘open-minded’ on changes to health care reform

The Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate is seen as a bulwark against Republican efforts to undo health care reform, but Sen. Joseph Lieberman says that he is going into the debate with an “open mind” about what changes, if any, would make sense.

Lieberman said he does not favor repealing the entire law, but he wants to consider all the options as Congressional Republican push to unravel the health care overhaul.

“I’m trying to keep opened-minded, listening to people who do want to repeal or change parts of the law,” Lieberman said.

The Connecticut independent, who caucuses with the Democrats, played a central role in limiting the scope of the health care reform proposal as it moved through Congress in 2009. He joined Republicans in vowing to filibuster any version of the measure that included a so-called “public option,” a government insurance plan that would compete with private plans.

That move promoted outrage among his erstwhile Democratic colleagues, including Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, who said Lieberman should be recalled from public office for taking that position.

Lieberman’s latest comments on health reform come as House Republicans are gearing up for a vote next week to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement. Their efforts to repeal the entire law will probably not go very far. Such legislation has little chance in the Senate and would not survive a presidential veto.

But after the full repeal vote, Republicans in both chambers plan to push forward with smaller attacks, such as trying to overturn key parts of the bill, to defund implementation, or to block its enforcement.

Lieberman said he had not thought through the all possible changes carefully enough to say what he might support or oppose.

“But I’m open to any ideas that anybody has for a better way to do this–that is to change the existing law in some way rather than repealing it totally,” he said.

He noted that the law is still not very popular with the public, although he said he doesn’t think Americans want a full repeal either.

Asked if he would support nixing the provision that requires individuals to purchase insurance, Lieberman said that probably would not work if the rest of the law is left in place.

He noted that the mandate, which goes into effect in 20014, will bring into the health insurance market millions of new paying customers who have previously gone without insurance. Insurance companies said that was vital to other reforms Democrats wanted, such as a ban on their ability to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

“If you repeal the mandate, you lose this larger pool of people who are paying for health insurance,” Lieberman said. “And it means you have to find another way to finance a lot of the reforms we put in… I know it’s unpopular but it’s there for a reason.”

Many of Lieberman’s colleagues in the Democratic caucus have blasted the GOP efforts, saying rehashing the health care law is a waste of time. But Lieberman said he gives plaudits to the GOP for trying.

“To tell you the truth, I understand and respect the new Republican majority in the House beginning the health care debate this way because that’s what they promised to do,” he said.