Dueling Senate health reform plans reveal centrist-liberal split

A show down between competing Democratic proposals to overhaul the nation’s health insurance system is fracturing along ideological lines, writes The New York Times today.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and liberal supporters of the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee are backing the “Medicare for All” public option — a guaranteed government-run plan that was the subject of a Denver town hall meeting headlined by former DNC chair and physician Howard Dean.

Meanwhile Montana Sen. Max Baucus, chair of the centrist-top heavy Finance Committee, is angling for a more health insurance industry-friendly plan.

And still single-payer is off the table in both committees.

The Times explains that, with the president’s August due date looming for a health care reform package, a quick settlement may be in the works between the two camps:

President Obama has championed a public plan, saying it would help “keep the private sector honest,” though he has indicated he will be flexible on the details.

House Democratic leaders, including three committee chairmen drafting the House bill, are close to Senator Kennedy’s position.

Democrats on the Finance Committee said Mr. Baucus was exploring a possible compromise. Under this proposal, the public plan would be created only if private insurance companies had not made meaningful, affordable coverage available to all Americans within several years.

Senate Democrats said they believed that Mr. Baucus might settle for this “fallback plan,” which could win some support on both sides of his committee, from people like Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat, and Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, a Republican.

Enter Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, who is also authoring what he describes as a compromise plan both Kennedy and Baucus could embrace.

Schumer proposes that a public option would comply with the same regulations and standards required of private health insurers. The Medicare-like program, open to any individual regardless of age or pre-existing condition, would also need to be financially self-sustaining — without a direct pipeline into the U.S. Treasury to keep it afloat. The public option plan, backed by the full faith and credit of the federal government, has become one of the bigger sticking points raised by the insurance industry as unfair competition with the private sector.

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Wendy Norris

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