Democrats Quietly Craft ‘Public Option’ Compromise Behind Closed Doors

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said he has “high hopes” of finishing work on a sweeping health care overhaul bill by Thursday night.  Democratic Sen. Max Baucus announced the schedule as he gaveled open the committee Thursday morning for its seventh day of work on a 10-year, $900 billion bill to extend coverage to uninsured Americans.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Senate Democrats are quietly crafting a compromise over the so-called public option behind closed doors — two days after a pivotal Senate panel struck down amendments to create the government-run program, congressional aides told FOX News.

Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, is spearheading the effort as a way to appease liberal Democrats — vying for a government-run insurance option — as well as party moderates and Republicans who claim it will lead to a single-payer system.

Carper is proposing what one aide called “an opt in plus a trigger,” which would allow individual states to choose to create a public option to compete with private insurers in their state.  He’s also proposing a non-profit cooperative, which is a member-owned group that assembles a network of salaried providers and negotiates payment rates with them.  States could opt to create both, Carper says, but it would be up to the decision of states.  Carper’s compromise would also allow states to create their own health care exchanges to permit interstate insurance pools.

Senate Democrats are hoping to appeal to moderate Republicans, especially Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, in passing some form of a government-run health plan to compete with private insurers.

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, said Thursday that the panel was nearing a vote, saying he has “high hopes” of finishing work on the bill by day’s end.

Baucus announced the schedule as he gaveled open the committee Thursday morning for its seventh day of work on a 10-year, $900 billion bill to extend coverage to uninsured Americans.

Finance is the only one of five committees in Congress that has yet to complete work on the legislation embracing President Obama’s top domestic priority. Once it finishes, Senate leaders can work to finalize a package to bring to the Senate floor.

The historic health care legislation could be ready for debate in both houses of Congress as early as mid-October. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, said Wednesday the Senate debate could begin the week of Oct. 12, even though lawmakers are scheduled to be on vacation at the time.

Democratic aides said the House was working on roughly the same timetable, although after months of missed deadlines, neither House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nor Reid would provide a detailed schedule.

The United States is the only developed nation that does not have a comprehensive national health care plan, leaving nearly 50 million people without health insurance. Most Americans rely on private insurance offered by their employers, and others buy their own policies or go without, paying steep medical bills out of pocket. The government covers the indigent and the elderly.

But even now, two weeks before the projected start of debate, key decisions are yet to be made.

Reid must decide, for example, whether to include an option for the government to sell insurance in competition with private industry, a provision sought by liberals who argue it would subject private insurers to much-needed competition.

Legislation that cleared a key Senate committee earlier in the year included the so-called public option, but another panel has twice this week rejected such a proposal.

There is no such uncertainty in the House, where Pelosi has said it will be included in legislation that will be debated in the lower house.

And even at this late date, Democrats in both houses are struggling to find ways to hold down the cost of the overhaul legislation while assuring quality health coverage for millions of lower-income individuals and families.

In the House, the issue has been the subject of closed-door negotiations in recent days, as Democratic leaders try to reduce the cost of their bill to the $900 billion over 10 years set by Obama.

FOX News’ Trish Turner and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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