WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Obama today endorsed a compromise health-care reform framework aimed at bridging the gap between the liberal and centrist wings of the Senate Democratic Caucus in the hopes that all 60 of them will now back the measure. But the move may have alienated some Democrats who have been strong health-care reform advocates — including Minnesota’s Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Keith Ellison.
“The Senate made critical progress last night with a creative new framework that I believe will help pave the way for final passage and a historic achievement on behalf of the American people. I support this effort, especially since it’s aimed at increasing choice and competition and lowering cost,” Obama said.
Several details of the plan have yet to be released — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he’d wait to do that until after the Congressional Budget Office has scored it — but here’s what we know now: It would expand Medicare eligibility to those aged 55 and older, and Medicaid eligibility to 133 percent of the poverty level. The Congressional Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the health plan offered to Congress and federal employees, would offer a national non-profit health plan to anyone who wanted it. Should that not work, there may be a trigger mechanism for a public option.
The compromise was crafted by a group of ten Democratic senators, five liberals and five centrists. Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and has threatened to filibuster any bill that contains a public option, declined an invitation to participate in crafting the compromise.
Unfortunately for Democratic leaders, the plan may have alienated some of their staunchest allies.
“I have serious concerns about the Medicare proposal,” said Klobuchar, a Democrat. Two of the biggest are the fact that Medicare is forecasted to become insolvent by the end of the next decade and geographic payment inequalities in the Medicare-reimbursement rate that leave Minnesota on the low end of an unbalanced scale.
Klobuchar said she wants to see how the Congressional Budget Office scores the new deal, but for now remains “skeptical” about the plan.
Democrat Ellison had perhaps the strongest negative reaction among Minnesota lawmakers to the deal, taking to Twitter this afternoon to denounce it.
“Please call your US Senator to push for the Public Option. They are threatening to drop it. Disaster. Act Now! Call your US Senator,” Ellison wrote in a Twitter post, followed three minutes later by another: “Public Option Advocates! Don’t want Senate version w/o Public Option facing House With Public Option. Both Versions MUST have it. Act now!”
Sen. Al Franken, also a Democrat, was more optimistic, saying the compromise “puts us one step closer to extending health coverage to 31 million Americans and giving some peace of mind to tens of millions more and that’s a good thing.”
“I’ve said all along that health reform must bring down costs and improve access to get my support,” he said. “The public option would do that, and so I’m disappointed to learn that it is not part of this agreement. However, this compromise does appear to include some other crucial provisions that should keep premiums down for families.
“If this compromise includes proposals I’ve been fighting for, like ensuring that a higher percentage of premium dollars are spent on health care rather than profits and wasteful administrative costs, we will achieve the end result that I want — high-quality, affordable health coverage for Minnesota families and small businesses.”
Derek Wallbank is MinnPost’s Washington, D.C., correspondent. He can be reached at dwallbank[at]minnpost[dot]com.