Liberal Dems See Need for Compromise, Not Excited by Co-ops over Public Plan

ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports:

The three Democrats who make up half the bipartisan “gang of six” negotiating bipartisan health reform at the Senate Finance Committee, took a break from the talks to read in the other Democrats on their Committee.

The closed-door bipartisan talks have been going on for weeks and when there is finally a compromise deal, bringing all the Democrats on board will be a tall order.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, emerged from today’s briefing and told reporters there is agreement on about 80 percent of health reform and that over the next hours and days he sees further agreement emerging.

And while the bipartisan negotiators, led for Democrats by Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, are not ceding some key liberal talking points. Chiefly, they are moving toward a series of non-profit, non-government co-ops to compete with the insurance industry instead of a government-run health plan.

Kerry said he prefers a public plan, but in the interest of enacting reform, he said he also understands there will have to be some compromise.

“Look my first choice is to have a public plan and to have a public option but we all understand that there is going to be some compromise,” he said.

That was not a sentiment shared by everyone. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, who has his own proposal for a public health insurance option, seemed downtrodden as he left the meeting.

He was brusque with reporters and said he has been looking into whether he could support co-ops over a public plan.

“I did a lot of reading on the history of co-ops,” said Rockefeller. “And it is not nice reading.”

Kerry has also offered a plan to the bipartisan negotiators to raise money to pay for health reform by taxing insurance companies that offer high-cost, gold-plated insurance plans. While most economists agree that taxing the high-cost plans is the best way to pay for health reform – it would both drive down costs and raise revenue. But many of those plans are offered as compensation to union members and Democrats are rue to tax unions. Kerry’s proposal would get at those plans by taxing insurance companies offering them instead of the consumers who receive them.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who represents Michigan, said that the idea could work if it is placed only on benefits plans that don’t affect most workers. She said the current threshold would be plans worth $25,000.

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