Reid Says 'Broad Agreement' On Public Option, Senators Await Details

Coverage of the Senate's "broad agreement" to create a national health insurance plan continues, with Democratic leaders remaining mum on details while insisting the compromise leaves a "public" option in the bill. (See KHN's Tuesday night breaking news round-up). 

The Washington Post: "Democratic Senate negotiators struck a tentative agreement Tuesday night to drop the controversial government-run insurance plan from their overhaul of the health-care system, hoping to remove a last major roadblock preventing the bill from moving to a final vote in the chamber." The Post reports that the deal would allow the government's Office of Personnel Management to negotiate with insurers to create private, national plans much like those available to federal employees. It would also open Medicare to some people 55 to 64 years old (Murray and Montgomery, 12/9).

Kaiser Health News reports that lobbyists for insurers, doctors and hospitals object to the Medicare "buy-in" for some 55-64 year olds, saying that "Medicare already doesn't pay enough. Adding more people would compel hospitals, doctors and others to jack up charges to private insurers and employers to make up the difference, they warned" (Appleby and Carey, 12/9).

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said he believes the plan is "an idea worth consideration," Roll Call reports. "The No. 2 House Democrat couched the assessment by stating he did not want to 'anticipate what is acceptable or not acceptable' in the Senate. But he also pointed to the difficulty of finding 60 Senate votes on a reform package, and he praised Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) 'herculean' efforts to forge consensus" (Newmyer, 12/8).

Meanwhile, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "told reporters that news accounts that the government-run 'public option' had been dropped were 'not true,'" Chicago Tribune reports (Levey and Hook, 12/9).

But a version of the article appearing in the Tribune's sister paper, the Los Angeles Times, quotes a Reid aide as saying, "By and large, it's not a public option, but I think the liberals felt so strongly about getting a bill that allows for comprehensive coverage and meaningful reform, it was worth accepting this." Another concession to liberals in the compromise may be "a mechanism for triggering the creation of a more traditional government-run plan like the one now in the bill, if the nonprofit option does not materialize" (Hook and Levey, 12/9).

CNN: "[L]iberal Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, one of 10 Democratic senators working on the deal, said in a statement released after Reid's announcement that he would not 'support proposals that would replace the public option in the bill with a purely private approach. We need to have some competition for the insurance industry to keep rates down and save taxpayer dollars,' Feingold said. ... Two senators who oppose a public option, moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, said they were open to the non-profit private alternative to a public option" (Bash, Barrett and Henry, 12/9).

The New York Times reports that Reid has not yet briefed colleagues outside of the ten-member negotiating group that came up with the deal. "Even senior members of the party said late Tuesday that they did not know if an agreement had been reached. 'I have no idea,' said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the assistant Democratic leader" (Pear and Herszenhorn, 12/8).

One remaining hurdle, according to The Wall Street Journal, is that the plan must get a passing score from the Congressional Budget Office. "Although the public option generated significant dissension among Democrats, the CBO projected that a relatively small number of Americans would use it. It said total enrollment after a decade would be only three million to four million people, in part because the CBO predicted the public option would attract less-healthy employees and charge higher premiums" (Hitt and Adamy, 12/9).

 

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