The House could vote on a sweeping health reform proposal as early as Saturday, but before it does, Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, wants to make a few tweaks, including dumping a public insurance option.

Matheson planned to offer five amendments Friday during a meeting of the House Rules Committee, which is charged with setting the parameters for this weekend's big debate and vote.

"I support making needed reforms to our health care system," Matheson said in a statement prepared for the meeting. He said the amendments are drafted "with respect to specific areas within the bill that can and should be improved."

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that Democrats may reject all amendments, aside from one that would restrict federal funds going to elective abortions.

Matheson voted against health reform when it was before the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this year. He remains skeptical of the proposal announced by his party last week. Still, he has not said how he would vote.

He is pushing an amendment that eliminates the most hotly debated health reform issue -- whether the government should create a public insurance option to compete against private plans for the business of people not covered by their employers.

"I agree with my colleagues that consumers deserve more choice and competition within the insurance marketplace," Matheson is expected to say. "However, I disagree that a government-run insurance option is the only way to achieve that shared goal."

His amendment would scrap the public option in favor of state-based insurance cooperatives, an idea endorsed by the Senate Finance Committee.

Matheson has another amendment on medical malpractice reform, an issue largely supported by Republicans. His proposal would place a $250,000 cap on the noneconomic damages people can receive through a medical liability lawsuit. Democrats argue the caps are arbitrary and hurt patients with valid claims, while Republicans say the threat of lawsuits forces doctors to practice defensive medicine, which wastes money.

A Congressional Budget Office review, requested by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, found that similar medical malpractice proposals could save the government $54 billion over 10 years.

Matheson has a third amendment that would make health savings accounts available through any individual insurance marketplace, commonly known as an exchange. Republicans have championed these accounts as an alternative to traditional insurance. People pay into the account with pretax dollars and dip into it when they need to cover a medical cost.

The health reform bill now requires all people to purchase insurance or face a fine. Matheson's amendment would allow health savings accounts to count as that insurance.

His fourth amendment would drop the nationwide health insurance exchange called for in the bill in favor of state-based exchanges. Utah has already designed such an online portal, which only recently launched.

His last amendment would create a loan forgiveness program for medical students who go into pediatric subspecialties. Primary Children's Medical Center says they are having a hard time recruiting doctors in specific areas.

Matheson's wife Amy is a pediatrician.

mcanham@sltrib.com

Matheson's proposed amendments

» Drop the public option for state-based co-ops

» Medical malpractice caps

» State based insurance exchanges, instead of a national one

» Health savings accounts in exchanges

» Loan forgiveness for new pediatric subspecialty docs