Christine Stuart photo

“This is our best opportunity at health care reform in a long time,” U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman told a packed ballroom at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cromwell Monday morning.

However, the health care reform bill Lieberman believes the U.S. Senate will ultimately pass does not include a government-run public option.

The senator, who won re-election as an Independent, told hundreds gathered for the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast that there’s broad support for changing the medical delivery system and regulating health insurance markets, but when it comes to a public option, “I don’t think the votes are there in the Senate.”

“I don’t support a government health insurance plan,” Lieberman added.

But that doesn’t mean he wants to see reform defeated this year. 

He said his general view of the matter is that the government should not get involved with running health insurance unless the private sector fails, which in his opinion hasn’t happened yet.

“I would like to see us move to universal coverage,” Lieberman said. “But I think we’ve got to do it step by step.”

“Don’t jump in with a government answer to every problem,” Lieberman said.

While he expressed concern about the issue of the uninsured, especially those who are uninsured because they’re unable to pay for their own health insurance, he said he was also concerned about the national debt.

“We should help as many of the currently uninsured get health insurance as we can afford to this year without increasing the deficit or the debt and cover more and more of them as we put our fiscal house in order,” Lieberman said citing the national debt as his biggest concern.

“My attitude is that if the health insurance companies are doing some things that we don’t like there are other ways to bring them into line than to create a government health insurance company to compete with them,” Lieberman said at a brief press availability outside the event Monday morning.

Christine Stuart photo

As Lieberman entered the event Monday he was greeted by about a dozen protesters armed with more than 2,000 letters urging speedy action on health insurance reform.

“I understand that you recently sent a letter saying we need to slow down the pace of health care reform. And then I read a statistic that over 400 people die each week because of lack of health insurance coverage. This is a crisis and we need to move quickly to find a solution. We can’t afford to wait any longer!,” the form letters read.

Mary Elia, a retired teacher with the CT Alliance of Retired Americans, said “real reform has to include a public option.” She said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus’s plan which includes an individual mandate to purchase insurance is “terrific for insurance companies,” but doesn’t save enough benefits for the elderly.

She said by fixing the health care crisis Congress will be fixing the economic crisis and will help bring back the middle class.

“We need quality, affordable health care for all that protects good health benefits, stops cost-shifting, and provides comprehensive coverage options to insured and uninsured families—including a choice of a secure public health insurance plan,” the group wrote in its letter to Lieberman.