Sen. Conrad sees ‘outline of a compromise’ for health-care reform

Sen. Kent Conrad
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The author of the cooperatives alternative to public option in Senate health-care reform legislation said today that he sees “the outline of a compromise” that could put reform legislation containing both co-ops and public option on President Barack Obama’s desk by the end of the year.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said a compromise bill would be based largely on the Senate Finance Committee bill he helped produce, but it would provide for a government-funded exchange where people could obtain health insurance as well as a not-for-profit cooperative alternative to private health insurance.

The public option would not be linked to Medicare levels of reimbursement, which Conrad and legislators from Minnesota and other states have argued are unfair to states with more efficient and higher quality health care delivery systems.

“I’ve always believed the bill that came out of (Senate) Finance had the best chance of getting adopted,” Conrad said, “because it has the greatest chance of securing 60 votes,” the number Democrats need to bring it to the floor and pass it over a Republican filibuster attempt.

“The reasons for that are that not only is it fully paid for in 10 years, but it also reduces the deficit in the second 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office,” he said. “It also does a good job of dealing with the issues involving those people who are here illegally. It does not allow those here illegally assistance. And it does not fund abortion … no taxpayer funding for abortion.”

The public option as an alternative
That leaves the matter of public option, he said. Many Democrats have insisted that must be part of reform, but Republicans and some conservative Democrats have said they won’t vote for it.

Conrad was one of six Finance Committee senators assigned to craft legislation that could attract a Republican vote or two and pass the Senate with a filibuster-proof 60 votes. Drawing on his state’s long, positive history with agricultural, rural electric, rural telephone and other cooperatives, he proposed a network of regional not-for-profit co-ops where members could buy health insurance.

The Senate bill that Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., plans to bring to the floor next week is expected to include a cooperative model and would leave open “the possibility of public option that is not tied to Medicare reimbursement rates,” Conrad said.

“So I think you can begin to see the outlines of a compromise,” Conrad said. “I think public option will be included as an alternative (in the final bill), but not tied to Medicare levels of reimbursement. And there will be a not-for-profit alternative, and that will be a cooperative model.”

‘It could get done this year’
He said the Reid bill “probably will come to the floor next week in the Senate … (and) will be on the floor close to Christmas. It could get done this year, the whole thing, but it seems to me it’ll be hard to get wrapped up this year. It seems to me all the stars will have to align for that to happen.”

Acknowledging “a lot of concern” around the country about health care reform, “there also is a tremendous amount of misinformation,” Conrad said. “The blog world especially has really fostered a lot of misinformation about what’s in these bills — interestingly, from both the left and the right. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so much misinformation about a major issue.”

He said the furor over public option has missed “probably the most transformational part of what we’re considering,” including providing incentives for medical personnel to share administrative and diagnostic costs “moving from paying for procedures to paying for quality outcomes.”

But the furor continues., a coalition of advocates for public option, assailed Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota today for mailing letters to state businesses that were “full of inaccuracies, exaggerations and sleights of hand intended to protect the Blues’ dominant lock on health insurance in the state.”

And released a new TV ad today to keep pressure on Conrad to see that the Senate bill includes a public option and gets “an up or down vote” on the Senate floor.

Chuck Haga covers issues in Greater Minnesota and the Dakotas.


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