Friday, June 19, 2009

Pelosi backs "self-sufficient" public health plan

Pelosi backs self-sufficient public health plan
By Donna Smith
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday a new self-sufficient government medical plan under President Barack Obama's healthcare reform would be part of House legislation, as a Senate panel weighed an alternative that would create nonprofit medical cooperatives.
The government plan, the so-called public option, is likely to be the most controversial provision in draft legislation that three committees in the House of Representatives are expected to make public on Friday.
"I have every confidence that we will have a public option coming out of the House of Representatives -- that will be one that is actuarially sound, administratively self-sufficient, one that contributes as to competition, does not eliminate competition," Pelosi told a news conference.
"It may not be called public option but it will be a level playing field," she said.
Pelosi said the government plan, once established, would not receive continuing government funding.
Healthcare reform is Obama's top legislative priority, which he believes is needed to help put the U.S. economy back on a sound footing as it emerges from the recession.
U.S. healthcare costs nearly 16 percent of gross domestic product, roughly twice what many developed countries pay per capita. Costs are rising much faster than inflation, yet 46 million people are uninsured and have little access to care.
Obama and other Democrats who want a new government plan to help cover the uninsured argue the competition is need to keep insurance premiums low. Republicans strongly oppose a new public plan, saying it would drive insurance companies out of business and lead to a government-led medical system.
The Senate Finance Committee, one of two Senate panels drafting health reform legislation, is considering the cooperative alternative as a way to win some Republican support for the overhaul.
A draft summary of the Senate Finance bill posted on The Washington Post website described the proposed cooperatives as a consumer-oriented and consumer-governed nonprofit corporation. Panel members told reporters the co-op proposal was still being negotiated.
'COALITION OF THE WILLING'
Democratic Committee Chairman Max Baucus met behind closed doors on Thursday with panel members, including some Republicans -- a group he called a "coalition of the willing" -- to try to reach agreement on a $1 trillion bill that aims to cut soaring healthcare costs and provide medical coverage to the millions of uninsured.
"We are getting closer and closer and closer. There is no doubt in my mind we are getting closer to a bipartisan bill," Baucus told reporters. He and other senators attending the session said no agreement had been reached. Many issues remained unresolved, including whether employers should offer health benefits to their workers, they said.
The draft shows that senators are considering requiring employers whose workers receive Medicaid or proposed government tax subsidies for insurance to help pay for that coverage.
It would also limit the ability of workers to drop out of employer-sponsored health plans in favor of subsidized insurance that would be offered through state exchanges -- clearinghouses where businesses and individuals could shop for insurance. Continued...
Source: Reuters

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