House Democrats are weighing an overhaul of the U.S. health care system that would offer Americans three options for insurance coverage, including a plan similar to the one federal workers use.
Democrats, in a closed-door meeting Wednesday, discussed a system that would include private insurers, strengthened Medicare and Medicaid programs, and a plan like that offered to federal employees, said Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat who attended the meeting. Federal employees are allowed to choose among plans offered by private companies.
“Sure, it’s going to be expensive; that’s why the president put a fairly large chunk of money aside for health care,” Weiner said in an interview.
Earlier Wednesday, House leaders met with President Barack Obama, who said “the stars are aligned” for Congress to pass a health care overhaul this year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said she is “quite certain” her chamber will have a floor debate on the legislation by July.
Obama has proposed a $634 billion fund for a health care plan, in part to expand coverage of the estimated 45 million Americans who are uninsured, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Earlier this week, the Senate Finance Committee outlined its options for a plan, including a government-run program that would be similar to the Medicare health insurance system for the elderly. Medicaid serves the poor.
Senate Democrats today met privately with White House officials to talk about how best to sell a health care overhaul to the public.
David Axelrod, a senior White House adviser, and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina reviewed polling data and advised describing the plan as affordable, protecting patient choice and still largely private-run, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and other senators who attended.
“This is about maintaining choice,” said Baucus, a Montana Democrat. He said the meeting was sparked by concerns among some in the health care debate that Democrats “don’t have our act together yet” to sell hard choices in a debate that will start in earnest next month.
Senate Democratic Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois said the “catalyst” for the meeting was news reports about a briefing some Senate Republicans received last week from pollster Frank Luntz on how to frame arguments against Democratic plans.
Still, Durbin said he doesn’t yet see signs that Senate Republicans are rejecting the idea of a bipartisan compromise. Baucus and Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the finance panel, are working on possible legislation.
No ‘Coordinated Campaign’
“I don’t believe the Republicans have a coordinated campaign against health care reform,” Durbin said.
House Republicans, including Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, for weeks have signaled the potential for a partisan divide on the issue in that chamber.
Rep. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, is working on an alternative that would preserve the employer-based insurance system and wouldn’t include a so-called “public option” favored by Democrats that would let the uninsured buy into a system similar to Medicare.
Boehner said the House Republican plan “will maintain the doctor-patient relationship, making sure that patients can choose their own doctor and not be forced into some government-run health care program.”
Republicans are concerned “about a government option that we believe in the long run will starve out the private option” that insures 150 million Americans through their employers, Boehner said.