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Democrats reach agreement on public option

Democrats in the Senate have reached an agreement on whether a healthcare reform bill should include a government-run health plan

Democrats in the Senate have reached an agreement on the contentious issue of whether a healthcare reform bill should include a government-run health plan, or "public option", that would offer competition to private insurance companies, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Tuesday December 8.

The details of the agreement remain unconfirmed, but the fact that a consensus has been reached could pave the way for the healthcare reform bill that is currently under consideration in the Senate to move forward. 

Reid said he would provide details of the agreement only once the Congressional Budget Office had reviewed it, as is standard practice. However, the New York Times reported that, according to Democratic senators, the deal would allow Americans to "buy in" to Medicare, the government health programme for people aged 65 and over, from the age of 55.

The newspaper also reported that the government's Office of Personnel Management would negotiate with insurance companies to create private plans for the general public along the lines of the ones already offered to federal employees, and that a government-run "public option" would be offered if those plans did not prove sufficient.

"It is a consensus that includes a public option and will help ensure the American people win in two ways: one, insurance companies will face more competition, and two, the American people will have more choices," Reid said in a statement. "I know not all 10 Senators in the room agree on every single detail of this, nor will all 60 members of my caucus. But I know we all appreciate the hard work that these progressives and moderates have done to move this historic debate forward."

The consensus among the group of 10 liberal and moderate Senate Democrats was reached under the leadership of Charles Schumer (NY) and Mark Pryor (AK) and included Sherrod Brown (OH), Thomas Carper (DE), Russ Feingold (WI), Tom Harkin (IA), Mary Landrieu (LA), Blanche Lincoln (AK), Bill Nelson (FL) and Jay Rockefeller (WV).

Debate will now continue on the bill, which is known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, Reid's office is drawing attention to a new study released this week by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Commonwealth Foundation showing that the Senate and House healthcare reform proposals would actually save more money than has previously been estimated.

"Most assessments of health reform legislation have focused only on the federal budgetary impact," the Center for American Progress explained. "This study projects the effect of national reform on total national health expenditures and the insurance premiums that American families would likely pay."

The study estimates that the combination of provisions in the House and Senate bills would save $683bn between 2010 and 2019 and lower premiums by nearly $2,000 per family.

9th December 2009

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