Bipartisan group in Senate working on health care compromise

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — After weeks of secretive talks, a bipartisan group in the Senate edged closer Monday to a health care compromise that omits two key Democratic priorities but incorporates provisions to slow the rise in medical costs, officials said.

The officials said that the participants were on track to exclude a requirement for businesses to offer coverage to their workers. Nor would there be a provision for a government insurance option, despite President Barack Obama's support for such a plan.

The three Democrats and three Republicans from the Senate Finance Committee were considering a tax of as much as 35 percent on very high-cost insurance policies, part of an attempt to rein in costs. Also likely to be included in any deal was the creation of a commission charged with slowing the growth of Medicare.

"We're going to get agreement here," Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the Finance Committee chairman, said Monday. "The group of six really wants to get to 'yes.' "

Obama has outlined two broad goals for legislation he is struggling to win from Congress: expansion of health insurance coverage to millions who lack it and reining in increases in costs.

Like bills drafted by Democrats, the proposal under discussion by the six Finance Committee members would bar insurance companies from denying coverage to any applicant. Nor could insurers charge higher premiums on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions.

But it jettisons other core Democratic provisions in a reach for bipartisanship on an issue that has so far produced little, officials with knowledge of the discussions told the Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity.

The officials said any legislation that emerges from the Senate committee is expected to provide for a nonprofit cooperative to sell insurance in competition with private industry, rather than giving the federal government a role in the marketplace.

Obama and numerous Democrats in Congress have called for a government option to provide competition to private companies and hold down costs.

One of the senators involved in the talks, Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, confirmed that co-ops are the preferred approach. "It's safe to say that'll probably remain in the final document," she said.

The six senators involved in the negotiations are all members of the Senate Finance Committee. They include Charles Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican, Democrats Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, and Republican Mike Enzi of Wyoming.

Bipartisan group in Senate working on health care compromise 07/28/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 28, 2009 12:17am]

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