Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said Wednesday that he is "frankly not terribly interested" in what the major health care reform coalition thinks and is pushing ahead with a proposal the group rejects.
"I am unaware that HCAN has any votes on the floor of the United States Senate," said Conrad when told that the coalition Health Care for America Now opposed his plan to create regional health care co-ops instead of allowing consumers to have access to a public plan option.
"They have no votes on the floor of the United States Senate. And I am dealing with votes in the finance committee and the floor of the United States Senate. I am frankly not terribly interested in what these myriad groups all think. I am interested in what people who vote think," he said, flailing his arms and knocking a Politico reporter's recorder to the marble floor.
"I don't even respond to that kind of thing. I think it is just chatter. What matters is results, legislative results at the end of the day," he said.
But aren't the "myriad groups" he's referring to the base of the Democratic Party? Shouldn't he give some weight to their position?
Conrad wasn't having it. "What is it that they want to get? Are they interested in the name of something or are they interested in getting a result that delivers on what is behind the name? I am interested in actually achieving a result. Not a label, but an alternative to the delivery model of for-profit insurance companies," he said. "The great thing about democracy is we get to debate. It's healthy. It's good to have a debate."
Conrad will be meeting with Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who is leading the bill through the health committee, later on Wednesday. "It's intriguing," said Dodd of Conrad's idea. "There are a lot of questions about how it would work."
Conrad said he was tasked to come up with a compromise that could appeal to both parties and his co-op idea was the result. "What I am interested in doing is getting an alternative delivery mode to compete with for-profit insurance companies," he said.
Reformers argue that there is nothing new about the co-op model and that supposed nonprofit insurance companies already abound, but pay their top executives huge salaries.
Conrad agreed it isn't a new idea. "We know this can work. This is not some new idea that has never been tried," he said.
HCAN responded that Conrad is not only dismissing the organizations that make up the coalitions, but the voters that make up the organizations.
"HCAN represents more than 1,000 member organizations and more than 30 million people -- voters -- nationwide who support a strong public health insurance option -- a national plan that is ready on day one," said Jacki Schechner, HCAN's spokeswoman.
Ryan Grim is the author of This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America, due out later this month