Two Democratic senators in the eye of Hurricane Health Reform are butting heads over the most explosive political issue in the process—whether or not to establish a public health insurance plan.
Massachusetts’ Edward Kennedy favors a Medicare-like government-sponsored plan that would compete with Big Insurance.
Montana’s Max Baucus, who has been holding hands with Republican Senator Charles Grassley for months in an attempt to craft legislation that is at least vaguely bipartisan, prefers to bag the public plan or at least play it down initially.
For his part, Grassley, who seems to have forgotten how to count to 60, told the New York Times, “we cannot afford the public health plan we have already,” a slap at Medicare.
The Big O believes a public plan would “keep the private sector honest,” but says he can live without it.
Most House Democrats, including the 3 committee chairmen who are drafting the House bill, are in Kennedy’s camp.
In the Baucus compromise, a public plan would be formed only if Big Insurance fails to provide affordable coverage to all Americans by some deadline, presumably during the lifetimes of our great-grandchildren.
Meanwhile, New York Senator Charles Schumer has floated yet another proposal, in which the public plan would have to comply with the same rules and standards that apply to Big Insurance, including a requirement that it sustain itself with premiums rather than a money-tree over at Treasury.
Opinion polls show that health consumers would like a public plan, but Big Insurers worry it would drive them out of business and lead to a government-run, single-payer system.
No one knows how the dispute will be settled, but the Big O has offered to host a winner-take-all game of H-O-R-S-E during halftime of an NBA Finals game.