Care Bill Agreement Reached By Senate Democrats

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Senate Democrats have reached tentative agreement on a health care bill that will be sent to the Congressional Budget Office Wednesday. Senate Republicans unanimously oppose the bill so far, so it will require support from all 60 members of the Democratic caucus for it to pass.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would not reveal any details of the plan, but states “we’ve got something that is good.” Several issues have kept the Senate debating over several days, including the proposal to provide a public insurance option and an amendment sponsored by Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska to tighten restrictions on federal funding for abortion.

Sen. Nelson’s amendment, which would have barred million of Americans from purchasing insurance policies that included abortion as a covered benefit, was defeated 54-45 on Tuesday afternoon. The current Senate bill would allow individuals who qualify for insurance subsidies to purchase abortion coverage with their own money, a move Senator Reid calls “a fair middle ground.” The House of Representatives health care bill contains the restrictive language on the funding of the procedure.

Regarding the controversial public insurance option, Senator Schumer of New York described four components that were currently under discussion as a compromise to the current proposal.

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The first and most popular would create a not-for-profit private insurance option overseen by the Federal Office of Personnel Management, much like the current health plan for federal workers. Under the proposal, the OPM would set criteria for coverage and seek responses from private firms.

A second proposal includes lowering the age of Medicare availability from 65 to 55. Those older than 55, but younger than 65, could purchase Medicare if they do not have access to coverage through an employer. Some estimate that this idea would add as many as 3 million people to an already-struggling Medicare program.

The third consideration to increase access to health insurance is an expansion of the Medicaid program that would lower the maximum annual income to 150% of the federal poverty level. This bill is not favored because it would add about %50 billion to Medicaid costs over the next decade and increase burden on the states.

A fourth option would be to consider insurance reform measures to hold down costs in the health insurance industry. Republican Senator Snowe of Maine says, “You can design incentives in this legislation to maximize and empower the marketplace and make sure the industry performs. You can do that without having to delve into expanding government in the process and creating unintended consequences of government assuming greater financial liability.”

A series of pending amendments must be resolved before debate can end and a final vote can be called. On Wednesday, the Senate is expected to consider an effort to allow cheaper prescription drugs to be imported from Canada and other countries and consider an expansion of an independent Medicare advisory board.

White House spokesman Bill Burton said President Obama "thanked members of the Senate for their hard work so far and encouraged them to continue forward on this historic opportunity" to pass health care reform legislation.

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