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The Waiting Room « The Washington Independent

*Here’s a quick wrap-up of today’s health care news. *

Congress came back to Washington today after a month-long break, and it seems like just about everyone has something to say about health care reform.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, released an 18-page draft summary (PDF) of the committee’s long-awaited “Gang of Six” compromise bill. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein does the heavy lifting and breaks down what’s in the bill. The big news, of course, is that the Finance Committee bill, according to the summary, will not include a public option — a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers. It will instead opt for the creation of nonprofit health care cooperatives, which Klein warns should not be construed as an alternative to the public plan.

There would be 51 co-ops (including D.C.) and they’d be able to band together “into collective purchasing arrangements for services and items that increase administrative and other cost efficiencies.” That might actually make them viable. They will receive start-up loans and grants from the government, with priority going to “statewide proposals, integrated care models, and applications with significant private support.”

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) stated in no uncertain terms that a bill that did not contain a public option would not pass the House. Nevertheless, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) today said that such a bill would indeed have a shot at passage. Not to be outdone, following a meeting in the Oval Office with President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Pelosi shot back and said the inclusion of a government plan “will be essential to our passing a bill in the House of Representatives.”

Meanwhile, Blue Dog leader Mike Ross (D-Ark.) reversed course, saying he was opposed to the possibility of a public plan.

While things are looking grim for the public option as it had been previously discussed, it looks like some sort of consensus might be possible around a public option with a trigger. That is, if private insurers fail to reach benchmarks for covering the uninsured and containing costs, the public option would be “triggered” and private insurance companies would suddenly find themselves in competition with a government plan. Roll Call reported that a pair of House progressives signaled they would be willing to consider a trigger, while several more came out against it. In the upper chamber, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) opened the door to a trigger.

And then there was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said the Democrats should just scrap everything and start from scratch. Who said the Republicans aren’t trying to be constructive?

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