Democrats may pursue more aggressive regulation of health insurers in lieu of a public option in their health legislation, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) suggested Tuesday.

Waxman, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the three key House committees to handle healthcare reform legislation, said that beefed up restrictions on health insurance companies could take the place of the public option.

"The Senate could not get the votes for it. It's going to be difficult to have a public option, but if there's not going to be a public option, we'd better have a lot of restrictions on abuses by insurance companies," Waxman said during an appearance on KPCC public radio this afternoon.

The chairman said, though, that Democrats remained committed to pursuing the aims they'd sought through the public option, and may do so through strengthened regulations.

"If we have to do it through greater regulation, that's how we're going to accomplish the goal," he said.

Waxman all but confirmed that Democrats would avoid a formal conference and instead hold less formal negotiations to hash out their healthcare bill, but warned that not only would the final product need enough Senate votes, but enough Democrats' votes in the House, too.

"I would hope that the bill we will agree on will be the best from both bills," he said. "We have to make sure we get 60 votes in the Senate to get final passage, but we also have to get 218 votes in the House."