WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday night that he and a group of 10 Democratic senators had reached "a broad agreement" to resolve a dispute over a proposed government-run health insurance plan that has posed the biggest obstacle to passage of sweeping health care legislation.
Reid, D-Nev., refused to provide details. Other senators said the tentative agreement would allow people ages 55 to 64 to "buy in" to Medicare. Under the agreement, a federal agency, the Office of Personnel Management, would negotiate with insurance companies to offer national health benefit plans, similar to those offered to federal employees, including members of Congress.
If these private plans did not meet certain goals for making affordable coverage available to all Americans, Senate Democratic aides said, then the government itself would offer a new insurance plan, somewhat like the "public option" championed by President Barack Obama and liberal Democrats in Congress.
Reid said: "Insurance companies will certainly have more competition. The American people will certainly have more choices."
A bill approved last month by the House calls for a government-run health plan. So even if Senate Democrats reach consensus and pass their bill, they would not have the last word.
Reid's comments came a few hours after the Senate rejected a proposal to ban coverage of abortion by health plans that would insure millions of Americans under the Democrats' bill. The vote was 54 to 45.
The two Maine Republicans, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, joined with 50 Democrats and two independents to kill the proposal. Seven Democrats joined 38 Republicans in support of the ban.
Reid said he would ask the Congressional Budget Office to estimate the cost of the ideas devised by the group of 10 senators — five liberals and five centrists. Lawmakers often revise their proposals in the light of analysis by the budget office.
In announcing the agreement, Reid was apparently trying to create a sense of momentum for the health care bill, which has been on the Senate floor for nine days, with no end in sight.
Reid has not briefed the 60-member Senate Democratic caucus on the agreement, and even senior members of the party said late Tuesday that they did not know if an agreement had been reached.