The Senate Finance Committee inched closer to a final version of what is expected to be a bipartisan health reform bill, signaling that a relatively new proposal to create a “co-op” type health plan
to compete with private payers has become the favored option despite holdouts from key Democrats.
“I am inclined, and I think the committee is inclined, toward it,” committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said about the coverage option forged by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). “But it’s got to be written in a way that accomplishes the objectives of a public option, even though” it’s not public.
The plan, which emerged over the past week and has picked up some Republican support, has touched off debate among Democrats, including Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who drafted several public health plan proposals.
Schumer said that in order for such a plan to compete with private insurers, it would first have to be national, with a “significant infusion” of federal dollars and independent of the insurance industries. “We’re trying to bridge the gap here,” Schumer said, adding that the co-op plan is still far from finalized. “I don’t know if we can.”
Schumer added: “I am in touch with many of the groups and colleagues who support a public option and the bottom line, we’re not going to support anything that won’t be an independent model that puts consumers ahead of profitability. A co-op can do that, but we’re in uncharted waters here.”
The committee, one of two that has crafted health reform legislation on the Senate side, is expected to get what could prove to be the most crucial part of the bill—an actual price tag from the Congressional Budget Office—on Monday, June 15, with a draft bill planned for June 17 and a more finalized version set for June 19, according to a senior committee aide. Committee negotiations designed to finalize a bill are expected the following week.
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