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Harkin: Health Bill Will Include Public Option, Higher Threshold for ‘Cadillac Plan’ Tax

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), head of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told reporters on Friday that a public option will be included in the health reform bill ultimately signed by President Obama.

Harkin said that a “vast majority” — as many as 55 of the Senate’s 60 Democrats — support a robust public option like that passed earlier in the year by the HELP Committee. He said it makes little sense for the caucus majority to bow to the handful of moderates who have come out against the plan.

“It will have a public option,” Harkin said, though he couldn’t say what form that option will take.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) has been pushing for the creation of state-based health cooperatives, fearing a public plan that pegs rates to those paid by Medicare. (North Dakota, Conrad says, has among the lowest Medicare rates in the country.)

In what might have been a message for Conrad (or indication that Conrad is warming to the public option?), Harkin pointed out that the rates in the HELP bill’s public plan are not hinged on Medicare rates.

Also, Harkin said that the threshold triggering an excise tax on high-cost insurance plans will be bumped up under the compromise proposal Senate leaders are weaving out of the Finance and HELP committee bills.

“I can tell you that will be increased,” he said.

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