President, Some House Members Signal Support of Senate Reform Deal
On Wednesday, President Obama and some liberal House members indicated their support for the compromise in the Senate's health reform bill (HR 3590) that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced Tuesday, CongressDaily reports (Edney/Friedman, CongressDaily, 12/9).
The new plan is expected to allow people ages 55 to 64 to buy in to Medicare, as well as require private insurers to spend 90% of premiums on clinical services and programs that aim to improve quality of care.
In addition, the plan calls on the Office of Personnel Management to manage a new system of national health plans that would be run by not-for-profit organizations or other groups separate from the government, such as for-profit insurance companies, and that would be offered through proposed insurance exchanges.
In the case that no private insurers sign up with OPM to offer a national plan, the agency could trigger the creation of a public health insurance plan (California Healthline, 12/9).
Obama said, "The Senate made critical progress last night with a creative new framework that I believe will help pave the way for final passage and a historic achievement on behalf of the American people," adding, "I support this effort, especially since it's aimed at increasing choice and competition and lowering cost" (CongressDaily, 12/9).
In the House, a number of liberals leading the fight for a public option reacted positively to the Senate compromise.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said that the Medicare buy-in provision sounds "way better than the public option" and is "an unvarnished, complete victory for people like me who have been advocating for a single-payer system" (Dennis, Roll Call, 12/9).
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said, "It's about the goal," which she said "is competition to providers, the insurance providers and affordability to regular workers" (Frates/O'Connor, Politico, 12/10). She added, "It doesn't have to be called a public option" (Dennis, Roll Call, 12/9).
Senate Democrats Caucus
Senate Democrats emerged Wednesday evening from a caucus meeting optimistic about the compromise, the Washington Post reports (Murray/Montgomery, Washington Post, 12/10).
Although the details of the plan remain vague, many Democrats expressed confidence that the deal reached by five liberal and five moderate Democratic senators would be able to resolve some of the roadblocks the chamber has faced in garnering the 60 votes necessary for passing the bill (Herszenhorn/Pear, New York Times, 12/10).
During the caucus meeting on Wednesday night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did not provide members with all the details of the agreement, saying that he wants the Congressional Budget Office to determine how much it would cost before discussing it fully.
Senate aides say that it will take at least four to five days for CBO to finish scoring the new proposal.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said until then "we really don't know what's in it" (Wangsness, Boston Globe, 12/10).
Prospects Remain Unclear
Explaining that the agreement reached by the negotiating group was only to send the proposal to CBO, moderate Senate Democrats reiterated Wednesday that they will not decide how to vote on the legislation until the CBO score is complete (Drucker, Roll Call, 12/9).
Critics Line Up
While many are supportive of the Senate deal, a substantial number of lawmakers and special interest groups on all sides of the health care debate are critical of the new proposal.
The liberal group MoveOn.org on Wednesday said that Senate Democrats were "bargaining away the heart of health care reform" (Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/10).
Jacki Schechner, a spokesperson for Health Care for America Now, said, "We're glad to see there would be a robust public option for those 55 and over," but added that the group is "deeply disappointed that there's not a robust public option for people under 55."
The Medicare buy-in proposal drummed up criticism from a range of health reform players on Wednesday.
Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesperson for America's Health Insurance Plans, said, "Expanding the Medicare program to cover early retirees will exacerbate the cost shifting to families and employers with private coverage, and it will add millions of people to a Medicare program that's already going broke" (Politico, 12/10).Jeffrey Korsmo of the Mayo Clinic said in a letter that any expansion of Medicare "does not solve the nation's health care crisis but compounds it." In addition, Senate Republicans said that the proposal would increase health care costs and threaten competition (Brady, Roll Call, 12/9). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.