By Edwin Chen
Aug. 7 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama may accept nonprofit health-insurance cooperatives in place of a new government-run plan as long as consumers are guaranteed more choice and competition in buying insurance, a top aide said.
“We would be interested in that” if those conditions are met, Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s “Conversations with Judy Woodruff” airing today.
DeParle said she expected Congress to pass health-care legislation on a bipartisan vote “around Thanksgiving.”
Each house of Congress has already missed the president’s deadline of passing a version of health-care legislation by its August recess. Obama says he wants to sign a bill before year’s end.
“It is true that the House and Senate have not voted yet on the floor, but we expect that to be happening when they come back,” DeParle said. “We feel like we are in better shape now than we’ve ever been before, and we’re very close to our goal.”
The proposal to create a new government-run insurance program is one of the most contentious issues that lawmakers are grappling with as they debate how to extend coverage to tens of millions of people without adding to the deficit. They’re also considering whether to mandate that employers offer health insurance to their workers, and how to pay for a plan that may cost $1 trillion over 10 years.
Oppose Public Option
Most Republicans and some Democrats oppose the creation of a so-called public option. And while three House committees have incorporated that approach into legislation, the Senate Finance Committee dropped the Medicare-like plan during bipartisan negotiations between three Democrats and three Republicans on the panel. The six met with Obama at the White House yesterday.
The president has championed a public option even as he’s left himself room to be flexible.
When asked in a June 23 press conference whether his desire for a public plan was non-negotiable, Obama replied:
“We have not drawn lines in the sand other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don’t have health insurance or are underinsured.”
Two weeks later, Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, told the Wall Street Journal it was more important for health-care legislation to inject competition among insurers than to create a government-run plan.
“The goal is to have a means and a mechanism to keep the private insurers honest,” Emanuel said.
Statement From Moscow
Within hours, the White House issued a statement from Moscow, where the president was attending meetings, to reiterate Obama’s support for a public plan.
That approach, Obama said, would be “one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality” as well as to “force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest.”
In the Bloomberg TV interview, DeParle said a public plan would “level” the playing field by providing consumers “another choice” in “something like 88 percent of markets in this country right now” that are served by only one or two insurance companies.
The public plan would also lower costs, she said.
Nonetheless, DeParle said the president may be interested in cooperatives -- if they are designed to achieve his objectives.
Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, reinforced that view during his briefing yesterday when asked if Obama would sign a bill that didn’t include a public plan.
“The president is open to a bill that increases choice and competition,” he said.
DeParle distanced herself from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s description of the health-insurance industry as “immoral.”
“That isn’t the way I would probably describe it,” she said. She said the industry has “worked together constructively” with the White House toward a comprehensive health-care overhaul.
DeParle also said the president is spending two to three hours a day on health-care matters, whether speaking in public, consulting with staff or conferring with lawmakers.
“He is very steeped in the details,” she said. “He tells them the things that he wants to see, he wants to make sure that costs are lowered. He wants to get everybody covered.”