WASHINGTON – Senators are considering three different designs for a new government health insurance plan that middle-income Americans could buy into for the first time, congressional officials said Friday.
Officials familiar with the proposals said senators plan to debate them in a closed meeting next week. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the controversial plans have not been released.
Creating a public plan is one of the most contentious ideas in the debate over how to overhaul the nation’s health care system to cover the uninsured and try to restrain costs.
President Barack Obama and many Democrats say a government option would serve as a check to keep the private insurance industry honest.
Insurers fear the government would use its power to drive them out of business. And Republicans call a public plan in the legislation a deal-breaker, dashing hopes for bipartisan legislation for overhauling the health insurance system. Employer groups are also opposed.
The three approaches being discussed are:
•Create a plan that resembles Medicare, administered by the Health and Human Services department.
•Adopt a Medicare-like plan, but pick an outside party to run it. That way government officials would not directly control the day-to-day operations.
•Leave it up to individual states to set up a public insurance plan for their residents.
But many key details would still have to be fleshed out.
Among them is whether the public plan would be open to everyone or limited to small businesses and individuals purchasing coverage on their own.
Also, would the plan reimburse medical providers at discounted Medicare rates or the higher fees that private insurers pay? And would it be financed by tax dollars or entirely from premiums?
Senators on the Finance Committee will consider the proposals during a closed-door session scheduled for late next week. Committee leaders want to bring a bill to the Senate floor this summer. It’s unclear whether a public plan in any form will emerge from Congress.