Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced his support Monday for ramping up a government-run health insurance program that features a compromise allowing individual states to opt out of the plan.
He made his announcement about including the provision in the legislation at a news conference in Washington, D.C.
Moderate Democrats have for the most part failed to embrace the public option, fearing criticism that they were supporting a government takeover of the nation's healthcare system.
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Reid, a Democrat who represents Nevada, has now revived the controversial public option considered dead, or at least on life support, just weeks ago. The lawmaker, committee chairs and the White House had labored long to merge two bills that had passed their respective committees – the Senate HELP Committee Bill and the Senate Finance Committee.
Next, the proposed legislation is off to the Congressional Budget Office for an analysis of what it will cost the taxpayers. The bill will then be given to all Senate Democrats at their weekly policy lunch on Tuesday, according to a CNN report.
If, after rounds of debate, the Senate votes to drop the public option, Reid can rest on the fact that he tried to get it included.
Reid's version of the public option varies from the more liberal draft championed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Reid's version would allow individual states to opt out of the program, giving public option critics the chance to say that their states retain the right to toss the plan.
Also, under Reid's draft, the new government insurance program would have to negotiate payment rates with healthcare providers – while under the Pelosi scheme payment rates would be tied to the lower rates paid by Medicare, according to an ABC News report.
Reid pointed to polls showing widespread public support for giving the government a role in the overhauled healthcare system advocated by President Barack Obama and his allies in Congress.
But popular or not with the nation’s voters, congressional votes are what count in keeping the public option alive. According to an ABC analysis, Reid needs 60 votes – and 60 senators who support a public option may well be elusive.
Reid is, however, counting on Democratic critics of the public option supporting him in the legislative push-and-shove. The procedural motion would require 60 votes to defeat a GOP-led filibuster of the bill. Once the filibuster is beaten, it would take a tally of just 51 votes to get the bill down the pike.
Although the particulars of the legislation will be revealed later this week, perhaps as early as tomorrow, the Wall Street Journal indicates that sources have already revealed some key features: Employers with more than 50 workers wouldn't be required to provide health insurance, but they would face fines of up to $750 per employee if even part of their work force received a government subsidy to buy health insurance. The bill is expected to expand health coverage to tens of millions of Americans by giving low- and middle-income Americans subsidies to offset the cost of insurance. It expands the Medicaid federal-state insurance program to cover a broader cross-section of the poor. Most people would be required to buy insurance or pay a fine, though exceptions would be made for those deemed unable to afford it. New regulations on insurers to prevent them from denying coverage to people with pre-existing health conditions and from dropping customers' insurance once they suffer ill health.
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