The legislative language says that a public option will be set up in a state in which health care is not affordable to 95% of the state's residents, but it defines affordability as after the new tax credits that are written into the bill to make health care affordable.
Affordable is defined as 13% of income. So, if there is no plan in the exchange that costs less than 13% of a person's income, we'd get a public health insurance option. But that calculation of what a plan costs is made after the government pays out subsidies or employers pay their share. And therein lies the catch-22.
Max Baucus's bill caps out-of-pocket costs for people buying insurance in the exchange at 12% of their income. Therefore, after you add in government subsidies, costs will legally always have to be below 12%. The insurance industry can raise their rates as much as they want and government will make up the difference. The trigger, if passed, will never trigger. Not ever.
(This opinion has historical weight - there is a trigger for prescription drugs in Medicare Part D. So far, after 6 years, it still hasn't been triggered. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry rakes in the profits and seniors get screwed - a Families USA report [pdf] showed that private drug prices were an average of 58% higher than prices the government could have obtained through a public option. The fact that this trigger was never triggered costs government and seniors hundreds of billions per year, money that goes straight into the pockets of private pharmaceutical companies.)
It's clear: No public health insurance option anywhere in the country will ever be created under Snowe's trigger amendment.
The trigger amendment isn't a fig leaf. It isn't even a co-op. It's a plan to kill the public health insurance option outright, and give taxpayer money straight to private insurance companies.