Senate public option compromise buoys Democratic health reform supporters.

By National Association of Health Underwriters

Though details of the Senate Democrats’ public option compromise announced by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) are scarce, most media outlets portray the deal as a victory for Democratic “moderates” — and one that makes it much more likely that the reform package will be approved by the Senate in the near term.

        In a front-page story, the New York Times (12/9, A1, Pear, Herszenhorn) reports, “Under the agreement, people ages 55 to 64 could ‘buy in’ to Medicare.” And, “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.” The Times adds that “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’ in the bill Mr. Reid unveiled three weeks ago.”

        The AP (12/9, Espo) reports that “the emerging agreement calls for Medicare to be opened to uninsured Americans beginning at age 55, a significant expansion of the large government healthcare program that currently serves the 65-and-over population.” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), “referring to a deal among the negotiators, told reporters he didn’t like it, but added, ‘I’m going to support it to the hilt’ in hopes of securing passage of the healthcare bill.”

        Similarly, McClatchy (12/9, Lightman) notes that the negotiations that led to the deal were “a bid to win key moderates who’ve threatened to derail the effort. … At least four Democratic moderates are wary of a government-run plan, saying it could be costly and expand government’s reach, but they want to make coverage more affordable and available, so that plan is expected to win their backing.”

USA Today (12/9, Fritze) also says that the “tentative deal” has “bolstered chances for healthcare legislation passing this year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday.” Reid said, “We have a broad agreement. … For us, it moves this bill way down the road.” However, “shortly after Reid’s announcement,” Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) “said he is concerned about the approach.” Sen. Feingold said, “While I appreciate the willingness of all parties to engage in good-faith discussions, I do not support proposals that would replace the public option in the bill with a purely private approach.”

        According to Politico (12/9, Brown, O’Connor), Howard Dean has “repeatedly called for the bill’s defeat without a pure public option,” but said Tuesday that “the Medicare expansion was a ‘big deal.'” Also on Tuesday, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) “was highly skeptical of a proposal to expand Medicare and Medicaid — signaling that her support for an emerging public option compromise will be difficult to secure.” Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Lieberman, “another undecided moderate who opposes any version of the public plan, said “he is encouraged by a proposal to remove the public option and replace it with a national nonprofit insurance program administered by a federal agency.”

        The Washington Post (12/9, Murray, Montgomery) reports that “when asked whether the agreement means the end is in sight after nearly a year of work on President Obama’s most important domestic initiative, Reid smiled. ‘The answer’s yes,’ he said.” According to the Post, “Key liberals said they were prepared to abandon a government-run insurance program if it would move the chamber closer to a final deal, provided it was replaced with other coverage options and tighter restrictions on insurance companies.”

        Meanwhile, in a front-page article, the Wall Street Journal (12/9, A1, Hitt, Adamy, subscription required) quotes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) saying, “What’s becoming abundantly clear is that the majority will make any deal, agree to any terms, sign any dotted line that brings them closer to final passage of this terrible bill.” The Washington Times (12/9, Haberkorn) and The Hill (12/9, Young, subscription required) also cover the story.

“Several options” sent to CBO for analysis. Bloomberg News (12/9, Litvan) reports that Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, said that Reid “sent ‘several options’ to the Congressional Budget Office, including the proposal by the group of senators to allow the federal agency to administer national insurance plans. He said that some might see that as another form of the public option.” The Los Angeles Times (12/9, Hook, Levey) also covers the story.

Hospital groups push against Medicare expansion proposal. CQ HealthBeat (12/9, Reichard, subscription required) reports that the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the Federation of American Hospitals (FAH) “issued alerts labeled ‘urgent’ to their members” on Tuesday, urging their members to “pressure Senate Democrats to jettison an emerging plan that would allow certain people of ages 55 to 64 to buy into the federal Medicare program.” The “Medicare buy-in,” which emerged as a compromise alternative among Democrats to the public option, “would allow the near elderly who don’t have access to affordable employer-sponsored health insurance to pay premiums to enroll in the Medicare program. But hospitals are saying enough is enough.” According to the AHA, “Adding millions of people to these programs at a time when they already severely underfund hospitals is unwise, and should be opposed.”

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