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No Public Plan From Finance Panel

When Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who head the committees charged with writing health reform legislation this year, vowed a few weeks back that they would introduce similar reform bills that could be easily melted into one, the skeptics howled.

How, observers wondered, would the two committees reach a compromise on the issue of a government-backed plan — an option that Kennedy clearly wants but Baucus, working closely with public-plan opponent Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), has been more skeptical about?

Yesterday evening, the Finance Committee released a draft version of their bill that omits the public plan altogether. Instead, it proposes to create cooperatives offering consumers new coverage options that would be run by neither private insurers nor the government. The Washington Post explains:

The absence of a “public option” marks perhaps the most significant omission. Obama and many Democrats had sought a public option to ensure affordable, universal coverage, but as many as 10 Senate Democrats have protested the idea as unfair to private insurers. In its place, the draft circulated yesterday outlines a co-op approach modeled after rural electricity and telecom providers, subject to government oversight and funded with federal seed money.

Yesterday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) met with four Republicans, including Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa), the ranking GOP member on the panel, along with two Democratic colleagues in an attempt to find bipartisan consensus. Baucus dubbed the group “the coalition of the willing.”

This might answer the question of how the Finance panel intends to approach the thorny private-plan issue. The question remains, of course, how Baucus and Kennedy would combine their efforts.

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