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Reid Pushes Public Option

POSTED: October 27, 2009, 12:00 am

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this afternoon that he supports a public plan with a provision that would allow states to "opt-out." Reid's announcement represents a major reversal from his previous hesitation about this mechanism and ensures that some form of a public option will be included in health-care legislation headed to the Senate floor. Recent debate has focused on the best way to devise the approach and which lawmakers might support it.

The Washington Post reports: "'The best way to move forward is a public option with an opt-out provision,' Reid told reporters, adding that he 'fully' believes that such a bill would have 'the support of my caucus.' Under pressure from liberals in his caucus, Reid has carefully canvassed Senate Democrats in search of 60 votes needed to bring health-care reform to the floor with a public-option provision included. So far, he has not locked down commitments from every Democrat, Senate sources said" (Murray, 10/26).

The Wall Street Journal reports: "Mr. Reid noted that polls show widespread public support for giving the government a role in the overhauled health-care system envisioned by President Barack Obama and his allies in Congress. Top Senate Democrats are finalizing their health bill and could unveil a measure as soon as early this week that would include stiffer penalties on employers who fail to provide health coverage. Senate leaders plan to submit the bill to the Congressional Budget Office for a cost estimate as soon as Monday and make the legislation public as soon as Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the negotiations" (Adamy and Hitt, 10/26).

Fox News reports: "The compromise measure was one of a host of different so-called public options being considered in the Senate. Though the public option seemed off the table in the chamber just one month ago, it gained traction in recent weeks as Democratic leaders floated measures meant to be more appealing to party moderates. The 'opt out' proposal would set up a national insurance plan with government seed money and be run by a private, not-for-profit board. Under the proposal, states would have to prove they can provide comparable coverage in order to exit out of the federal plan. The plan would also negotiate rates with providers just like private insurance companies do, presumably keeping premiums on a level playing field with the private industry. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing a more robust version of the public plan, which would be based on Medicare rates and in turn provide for cheaper premiums. Pelosi reportedly does not yet have the votes in her caucus to pass that version" (10/26).

NPR reports that Reid said: "'I believe that a public option can achieve the goal of bringing meaningful reform to our broken system. It will protect consumers, keep insurers honest and ensure competition. And that's why we intend to include it in the bill ... that will be submitted to the Senate'" (James, 10/26).

CNN reports that Reid said that the public plan was "not a silver bullet but will ensure healthy competition and a more level playing field for consumers." The version of health overhaul legislation Reid has been working on "will be given a cost assessment by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, also includes a provision from the Finance Committee bill allowing for the creation of nonprofit health care cooperatives that would negotiate collective insurance coverage for members." He hopes this compromise "will appeal both to liberal senators insisting on a public option and to conservatives wary of a government-run plan. ...." Sources also told CNN that the Majority Leader does not yet have firm commitments in support of the compromise from 60 senators, the requisite number needed to break a Republican-led filibuster (10/26).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 news organizations.

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