Former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean argued Wednesday that the health care overhaul bill taking shape in the Senate further empowers private insurers at the expense of consumer choice _ a claim the White House rejected.
"You will be forced to buy insurance. If you don't, you'll pay a fine," said Dean, a physician. "It's an insurance company bailout." Interviewed on ABC's "Good Morning America," he said the bill has some good provisions, "but there has to be a line beyond which you think the bill is bad for the country."
"This is an insurance company's dream," the former Democratic presidential candidate said. "This is the Washington scramble, and it's a shame."
Dean argued that the Senate's health care bill would not prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions and he also said it would allow the industry to charge older people far more than others for premiums.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs rejected Dean's assertion.
"If this is an insurance company's dream, I don't think the insurance companies have gotten the memo," he said. "They've spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying against this legislation."
Other Democrats, including Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., a prominent House liberal, have protested the absence of any government-run insurance option in the Senate bill.
"We can't let the perfect be enemy of the good," Weiner said on CBS' "Early Show," "but we are reaching a tipping point."
When House and Senate negotiators go to conference to work out a compromise bill, Weiner said, "We should move away from some of the things the Senate has done and move back to where the House is. You need to contain cost. You do that with a public option."