The public option is headed for a vote in the Senate Finance Committee on Friday.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) lamented on a conference call Thursday evening that the debate Friday would be the first time that the committee, since it began negotiating health care reform months ago, would be debating the public option.
"We're going to have a full blown debate in the Finance Committee," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a backer of the public option. While it may be an "underdog," Schumer said, "don't count it out."
The bill in its present form, written by Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) in consultation with three Republicans and two Democrats on the committee, offers health care cooperatives as an alternative.
Proponents argue that a public health insurance option is needed to lower government costs and to expand coverage. By competing with private insurance companies, the public alternative can drive down premiums that private plans with monopolistic dominance now charge.
"I'd like to make a prediction," said Schumer. "The health care bill that will be signed into law by the president will have a good, strong, robust public option."
President Obama supports a public option and in the House, conservative Democratic opposition to the public option is fading, leaving the Senate as the remaining obstacle.