WASHINGTON — Sen. Olympia Snowe, the only Republican to support the Finance Committee's health care bill, said Wednesday she could foresee a government-run plan that would "kick in" if private insurers fail to live up to expectations.
Snowe emphasized that she still opposes the so-called public option, but said she also believes the private insurance market must yield a system in which health coverage becomes more widely accessible and affordable.
"I think the government would have a disproportionate advantage" in the event of a government-run option, the Maine Republican said on CBS's "The Early Show." But Snowe also said that "at the same time, I want to make sure the insurance industry performs, and that's why we eliminate many egregious practices."
She said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that if the industry didn't follow through on congressionally-mandated changes, "then you could have the public option kick in immediately."
Asked why she was the lone member of the Senate GOP caucus to line up behind the majority Democratic plan fashioned under the leadership of Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., she said, "It's hard to say. There are so many philosophical and political differences in how to approach issues. ... I thought it was important to move this process forward. The legislative journey will produce, I think, even more improvements, hopefully, in this legislation."
In the ABC interview, Snowe said she joined 13 Democrats in approving the measure produced by the Finance panel because she thought "the time has come to grapple with this issue that has eluded us for decades."
"I thought this was a good place to start," she said. Snowe's nine GOP colleagues on the committee voted against advancing the bill to the full Senate.
Snowe said there were elements of the bill she still opposes, but that "we can't postpone the inevitable." She said her constituents in Maine "want me to do what's right for the country and the state."
Snowe, who lost her parents to illness at a relatively young age, said she believes something has to be done to improve the health care delivery system. "I have had those losses in my life," she said, adding that she can't imagine the stress of people living with the specter of serious illness and no health insurance.