Dean: Health reform bill has been improved, but still not good enough

Howard Dean said Sunday that the Senate healthcare reform bill was made better this past week by Democratic senators but still has not earned his support.

Appearing on NBC’s "Meet The Press," the former Democratic National Committee chairman and ex-Vermont governor said the legislation was not the fundamental reform America’s healthcare system needed. Dean said the House version of the healthcare reform package was a better bill.

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“There are some things in this bill that weren't in there a week ago that make it a better bill. But this can't be the final version of this bill,” Dean said. The 2004 Democratic presidential candidate said he could not vote for the Senate bill if it was the end product.

On Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other Democratic leaders announced an agreement was struck with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) who had concerns over whether the bill would fund abortions with federal money. With Nelson’s support, the Democrats expect to have 60 votes, enough to beat back a Republican-led filibuster.

Dean has emerged as one of the most prominent liberal critics of the Democrats’ healthcare reform bill. He has been a vocal advocate for a government-run insurance plan, known as the “public option,” which the House included in its bill in limited form but the Senate jettisoned after objections from Nelson, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and other centrists in the upper chamber.

Regarding the public option, Dean said there didn’t seem to be too much fight for it in the White House. If the final healthcare reform bill does not have the government providing competition in the insurance market like the public option is designed to do, it will end up reducing choice for people on their healthcare coverage.

“I think there has been an enormous amount of compromise. I think the compromise has been too much,” Dean said. “We have basically set this country along the path of private insurance.”

Dean scoffed at the idea that he would leave the Democratic Party over his criticism of their healthcare reform effort. The former DNC chairman also said he would support President Barack Obama’s reelection bid in 2012.

“I said I would vigorously support the president’s reelection. I have every intention of doing that,” Dean said.