Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, said Monday that he's unsure whether he would vote for Senate Democrats' current health-care reform bill.
But he told the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah that he is sure the debate on it over coming weeks "will be one of the great debates in our country's history," and he hopes senators can put partisanship aside to produce a final reform product he and Americans can support.
"It may be one of the biggest public policy debates of your lifetime," he said, adding reform is needed, because without it "we are driving toward the edge of a financial cliff."
Matheson said he was among few moderate Democrats who voted against the House version of the bill, because he felt it was too expensive and did not include enough reform.
He said he decided to oppose the House version after the head of the Congressional Budget Office told him that even with provisions in that bill, "health-care spending is going to grow" instead of be slowed by it. "It's very light on reform," he said.
He said any reform bill needs to do two things: Reform the health-care system so it lowers overall costs and provide coverage to the uninsured.
"We have a health-care system where the costs are growing out of control. They are growing at a greater rate than inflation every year, not just by a little bit but by a lot," he said. "We can't sustain that path."
He said it is threatening both businesses and government, so ways to cut costs need to be explored more — from cutting unnecessary procedures some doctors use to either pad their pay or avoid lawsuits, to cutting high administrative costs from insurance and hospitals.
He said he hopes the Senate will offer and adopt amendments thoughtfully to make a complex series of possible improvements.
"The rules of the House are much more structured, so it's much harder to change bills and amend them. In the Senate, anything goes," he said.
Matheson added that "it's very unfortunate that it's taken on such a partisan tone" in the Senate. "I think we would have a more productive discussion if everyone at the table would try to be constructive instead of destructive."
He said the Senate's starting-point bill "at least on the top line basis will reduce costs over time, so it is going in the right direction."