Confusion surrounds Senate Dems' deal on health care (updated)

Last night a group of Senate Democrats reached some kind of compromise on the health care reform bill. Senator Tom Harkin “told reporters he didn’t like the agreement but would support it to the hilt” in order to get a bill through the Senate. Reports on the nature of the compromise varied, but Talking Points Memo seems to have the most details:

If this trade-off carries the day, the opt out public option is gone. […]

As has been widely reported, one of the trade-offs will be to extend a version of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan to consumers in the exchanges. Insurance companies will have the option of creating nationally-based non-profit insurance plans that would offered on the exchanges in every state. However, according to the aide, if insurance companies don’t step up to the plate to offer such plans, that will trigger a national public option.

Beyond that, the group agreed–contingent upon CBO analysis–to a Medicare buy in.

That buy-in option would initially be made available to uninsured people aged 55-64 in 2011, three years before the exchanges open. For the period between 2011 and 2014, when the exchanges do open, the Medicare option will not be subsidized–people will have to pay in without federal premium assistance–and so will likely be quite expensive, the aide noted. However, after the exchanges launch, the Medicare option would be offered in the exchanges, where people could pay into it with their subsidies.

It appears as if liberals lost out on a Medicaid expansion that would have opened the program up to everybody under 150 percent of the poverty line. That ceiling will likely remain at 133 percent, as is called for in the current bill.

In addition to the new insurance options, the group has tentatively agreed to new, and strengthened, insurance regulations, which the aide could not divulge at this time.

Those unspecified insurance regulations might refer to this:

Additionally, there was consensus support for a requirement long backed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and other liberals for insurance companies to spend at least 90 percent of their premium income providing benefits, a step that supporters argue effectively limits their spending on advertising, salaries, promotional efforts and profits.

The health care bill approved by the House would require insurers to spend 85 percent of premium income on providing benefits. Upping that to 90 percent is even better; my concern is that if enforcement is left to state insurance commissioners, evasion will be widespread.

Chris Bowers is excited about three “meaningful concessions” Senate progressives received in exchange for dropping the (already weak) public option.

I’m off the bus, however, unless further details come to light about very good provisions buried in this compromise. This bill creates millions more customers for private insurers but doesn’t give Americans enough choices, doesn’t create a government plan to keep private insurers honest, and therefore is unlikely to reduce costs or solve the various problems of our current health care delivery system.

In the good news column, last night the Senate tabled (killed) Ben Nelson’s abortion amendment modeled on the Stupak language in the House health care bill. The vote was 54-45, with seven Democrats from conservative states voting with all but two Republicans (roll call here). Harkin voted to table this amendment, like most Democrats, while Chuck Grassley was on the other side.

UPDATE: Can any Obama fans defend this kind of action from his administration?

A proposal to enable the importation of cheaper prescription drugs could endanger the U.S. medicine supply and would be difficult to implement, the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday. […]

But the Obama administration’s declaration on the eve of the vote could derail the amendment despite the fact that Obama co-sponsored Dorgan’s drug imports bill while a member of the Senate and that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was a vocal proponent of the House version of the bill when he served as a member of the lower chamber.

Feel the hope and change!

SECOND UDPATE: The compromise still may not be enough for Joe Lieberman. They shouldn’t have given up on using the budget reconciliation process to pass a better bill with 51 votes.

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