11/24/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

SEIU Refutes Report, Won't Abandon Public Option

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is pushing back against reports that the union is willing to abandon the public option in the final version of health care legislation.

In Pittsburgh for the G-20 Summit, Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger was pressed into making a round of media calls to online reporters after it wasreported by Politico that she is refusing to draw an absolute line in the sand when it comes to offering consumers a government-run insurance plan.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Burger stressed that the SEIU remained absolutely committed to fighting to keep the public option in the bill. "We believe very strongly that the public option is the key way to control cost," she said. "It is the way to hold insurance companies accountable and to keep them competitive. And unless we have the public option, I have not seen another mechanism yet to do that." She said the union looked at the idea of insurance co-ops and "we decided there is no way that this was going to work. And we fought against it."

Burger acknowledged that both she and the SEIU remained open to the possibility that another mechanism could arise which met the health care reform principles demanded by the union. "We have been studying these bills looking at every single one that comes out to figure out what works and doesn't work and what can make them stronger. And that's what we are going to do all the way through this," said Burger.

"I believe, and I said this to [Politico reporter Jonathan Martin], that there is going to be a public option in the bill," she added. "At the end of the day when the bill comes out of conference committee, we believe there will be a public option in there."

To date, the union has stressed its preference for a public option for insurance coverage, but not as forcefully as other labor groups, most notably the union conglomerate AFL-CIO.

In her interview with the Huffington Post, Burger stressed that the SEIU was putting ample pressure on lawmakers to support a government-run plan. She refused to endorse or oppose the bill being considered by the Senate Finance Committee, noting that senators are in the process of debating and adding various amendments.

So what will the union do if the final health care product does not include a public plan? "I don't know [what we'd do]," she replied. "We haven't made that decision. We have not come to grips with that because we don't believe that is the option that will be faced. Our union has not decided what we are going to do if there is a bill without a public option, because we believe that there needs to be a public option. We think it will be an ugly day without a public option..."

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