Senate Finance Committee Likely to Favor ‘Co-Op Groups’ Over Public Health Care Plan

By Staff Report

Jul. 28, 2009

Legislation expected to emerge from the Senate Finance Committee likely won’t include two key planks of a Democrat-backed platform to overhaul the U.S. health care system—a public health plan and a requirement that employers offer insurance.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, emerging from a closed-door meeting of Senate negotiators, said that the committee is strongly leaning against mandating employer-sponsored coverage and establishing “co-op” buying groups in place of a public health plan option.

Snowe and other senators on Monday, July 27, continued to suggest that nothing is final as the committee heads into the heavy lifting of figuring out how to finance such a package, which likely will near $1 trillion over the next decade.

“But the co-op is one of the more prominent options, it’s been fully explored,” she said. “It’s safe to say that it probably is going to remain in the final document.”

Snowe said that rather than force employers to offer health benefits to their workers, the so-called “free rider” initiative has become the favored option. Under the proposal, employers would be required to pay a certain amount if their workers were on Medicaid or got their insurance from the health insurance exchange.

“We still have various options on the table,” she said, but added: “We don’t mandate employer coverage, at least in some of the initial proposals.”

On Monday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs provided details to statements made by administration officials that there is agreement on a solid majority of a health care bill, citing cost savings and increased access to care as just two examples.

Gibbs said “there is broad agreement” that a bill to overhaul the health care system should not add to the national debt and should reduce costs over the long haul and require health plans to accept everyone regardless of whether they are sick.

Even so, two bills to emerge from Capitol Hill include a public option and employer mandate.

The Finance Committee package likely will be in direct odds with those other plans. That sets the stage for what could be a messy melding period, where all three packages will have to merge into one. Senior White House advisor David Axelrod over the weekend said on the television program Face the Nation that there is agreement on 80 percent of a legislative package.

“Everybody I think wants to get something done, and now we are at that final 20 percent,” he said. “We are trying to work through those details.”

Filed by Matthew DoBias of Modern Healthcare, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail

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