HEALTH REFORM -- December 9, 2009 at 7:37 PM ET
Public Option Deal Wins Praise, Criticism
Lawmakers and stakeholders reacted Wednesday to Democratic senators' tentative deal to break an impasse on the public option in the health reform bill.
Ten Democratic senators, five moderates and five liberals, announced the deal Tuesday night. It would replace the government-run public insurance option currently in the bill with a new non-profit national plan offered by private insurers, and administered by the Office of Personnel Management, the same agency that oversees federal workers' health care plans.
The compromise is aimed at winning the votes of moderate Democrats opposed to the public option, and those lawmakers reacted positively to the news Wednesday, though many had not yet seen the full agreement.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who has said that a bill with a public option would give him "great pause," told the NewsHour: "I want to see all the details," but added "I think we are headed in the right direction."
President Obama also praised the deal, saying: "The Senate made critical progress last night with a creative new framework that I believe will help pave the way for final passage and an historic achievement on behalf of the American people."
Supporters of the public option were less enthusiastic.
"While I appreciate the willingness of all parties to engage in good-faith discussions, I do not support proposals that would replace the public option in the bill with a purely private approach," Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said in a statement. "We need to have some competition for the insurance industry to keep rates down and save taxpayer dollars. I will base my vote on the bill on the entirety of what is in the bill, and whether I think the bill is good for Wisconsin."
And Republicans criticized the negotiation process.
"What's becoming abundantly clear is that the majority will make any deal, agree to any terms, sign any dotted line that brings them closer to final passage of this terrible bill," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R., Ky., according to the Associated Press.
In a bid to appease liberals, the compromise would also expand Medicare, allowing people ages 55-64 to buy in to the program beginning as early as 2011, three years earlier than most of the bill would take effect.
That move, though, may alienate hospitals and other health care providers, who have signed on to reform but who oppose expanding Medicare. That's because Medicare pays lower reimbursement rates than private insurers.
Both the American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals sent out alerts Tuesday night urging their members to oppose the bills.
American Hospital Association CEO Richard Umbdenstock told the NewsHour that the group is waiting to see more details of the deal, but that "moving more people into a program that underpays hospitals" would be problematic.
The Senate negotiators have sent the new proposal to the Congressional Budget Office for a cost estimate -- the cost of the original bill was estimated at $848 billion.
There will be more response from Umbdenstock and other stakeholders and lawmakers on the NewsHour tonight, as well as analysis from political and health care analysts Amy Walter, Jacob Hacker and Matt Miller.
--With reporting by Terence Burlij