WASHINGTON BUREAU — The Senate Finance Committee has rejected amendments that could have created a government-run health insurance system, and it has accepted an amendment that could let agents participate in a proposed health “exchange” system.

Members voted 10-13 against a “public option” amendment proposed by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and by an 8-15 margin against a public option amendment proposed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

Baucus and Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., joined all Republicans on the committee in voting against both public option amendments.

The Senate Finance Committee is considering and revising the America’s Healthy Future Act bill, a “chairman’s mark” developed under the direction of Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D- Mont.

“We are pleased by the rejection of both the Rockefeller and the Schumer amendments containing public plan options,” says Tom Currey, president of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, Falls Church, Va. “But, we will continue our educational efforts. There are currently three other reform proposals with government-run options, and lawmakers need to understand the negative consequences. A strong private health insurance system is best equipped to provide options for families and businesses.”

America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, is also welcoming committee rejection of the amendments.

“The government-run plan is a roadblock to reform,” AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach says. “A new government-run plan would dismantle employer coverage, bankrupt hospitals, and add to the federal deficit. The same goals can be accomplished by enacting an overhaul of the market rules and new consumer protections so that nobody falls through the cracks of our health care system.”

AHIP members already have agreed to sell coverage on a guaranteed-issue basis and to eliminate pre-existing condition exclusions, if the government will discourage adverse selection by requiring individuals to have health coverage, Zirkelbach says.

“Since the public option would not play on a level playing field with private coverage and would worsen the current governmentt plan cost shift already exprienced by private plan customers, we are very pleased with this outcome,” says Janet Trautwein, president of the National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va. “Government run plans at all levels increase costs for those covered under private plans by underpaying providers and being exempt from the fees, taxes, and solvency requirements required of private plans.

The Senate Finance Committee also pleased producer groups by agreeing to amendments that would let agents and brokers sell health coverage to individuals, families and small groups through a proposed health insurance “exchange” system.

The producer access amendment was offered by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.

The amendment says “exchanges have access to the same industry professionals as those working outside the exchange.”

“Agents do so much more than sell a policy,” Carper says in a statement. “The continual refinement of the proposals to ensure that consumers have access to professional guidance both inside and outside of exchanges is encouraging.”

“The Carper amendment guarantees that individuals and businesses purchasing insurance through the proposed exchanges have access to the same industry professionals as those working outside the exchange,” says Joel Kopperud, a director in the legislative affairs unit at the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, Washington. “We are very grateful to Senator Carper for recognizing and preserving the value of agent’s expertise.”

At NAIFA, Currey says the Carper amendment is consistent with amendments to health reform bills adopted by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“Numerous amendments to the bill are still pending,” Currey says. “However, NAIFA is pleased that the Carper amendment recognizes the valuable role that agents play in helping consumers with their insurance choices.”