December 6, 2009

Remember that just about anything can happen between now and the final version of the healthcare reform bill that comes out of the conference committee.

At first glance, this latest proposal seems like a workable compromise - but it really isn't. What are the odds that Blue Cross plans will undercut their own products? And why the separate plan, anyway? Why not just let people buy into the federal employees' plan?

President Barack Obama will meet Sunday with Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill, as a group of moderate and liberal senators weighed a new public option compromise in hopes of striking a deal by early in the week.

The president’s visit comes at the start of what will be a critical week for the health care reform bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will attempt to reach a so-far elusive compromise on the public option, and begin taking the procedural steps needed to pass a bill by Christmas.

As the Senate convened a rare Saturday session, about a dozen Democratic senators continued intensive talks on the public option, with the goal of agreeing on a framework that can garner 60 votes.

There appeared to be serious consideration of a new proposal on the table: a national health plan similar to the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan, which provides insurance to members of Congress and federal workers. It would be administered by the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the federal plan, and all of the insurance options would be not-for-profit.

“So in other words, what we got is a national plan that the progressives would like, but that’s where that middle is, we’re trying to find that middle,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

“There’s sort of a kind of a general agreement on where we’re headed on this thing,” Harkin added.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), a public option opponent who faces a tough reelection next year, said she was encouraged by the proposal.

“It’s one of the things that’s been talked about, and I think it bodes well for being able to do what we want to do, which is to create greater choice and options in the marketplace but also have a downward pressure on premiums on cost ,” Lincoln said. “Those are the dual objectives we've got.”

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