White House May Be Preparing To Overhaul Health Care Proposal

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Bowing to Republican pressure and an uneasy public, President Barack Obama's administration signaled Sunday it is ready to abandon the idea of giving Americans the option of government-run insurance as part of a new health care system.

Facing mounting opposition to the overhaul, administration officials left open the chance for a compromise with Republicans that would include health insurance cooperatives instead of a government-run plan. Such a concession probably would enrage Obama's liberal supporters but could deliver a much-needed victory on a top domestic priority opposed by GOP lawmakers.

Officials from both political parties reached across the aisle in an effort to find compromises on proposals they left behind when they returned to their districts for an August recess. Obama had wanted the government to run a health insurance organization to help cover the nation's almost 50 million uninsured, but didn't include it as one of his core principles of reform.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that government alternative to private health insurance is "not the essential element" of the administration's health care overhaul. The White House would be open to co-ops, she said, a sign that Democrats want a compromise so they can declare a victory.

Under a proposal by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., consumer-owned nonprofit cooperatives would sell insurance in competition with private industry, not unlike the way electric and agriculture co-ops operate, especially in rural states such as his own.

With $3 billion to $4 billion in initial support from the government, the co-ops would operate under a national structure with state affiliates, but independent of the government. They would be required to maintain the type of financial reserves that private companies are required to keep in case of unexpectedly high claims.

"I think there will be a competitor to private insurers," Sebelius said. "That's really the essential part, is you don't turn over the whole new marketplace to private insurance companies and trust them to do the right thing."

Obama's spokesman refused to say a public option was a make-or-break choice.

"What I am saying is the bottom line for this for the president is, what we have to have is choice and competition in the insurance market," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Sunday.

A day before, Obama appeared to hedge his bets.

"All I'm saying is, though, that the public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of health care reform," Obama said at a town hall meeting in Grand Junction, Colo. "This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it."

It's hardly the same rhetoric Obama employed during a constant, personal campaign for legislation.

"I am pleased by the progress we're making on health care reform and still believe, as I've said before, that one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices and assure quality is a public option that will force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest," Obama said in July.

Lawmakers have discussed the co-op model for months although the Democratic leadership and the White House have said they prefer a government-run option.

Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, called the argument for a government-run public plan little more than a "wasted effort." He added there are enough votes in the Senate for a cooperative plan.

"It's not government-run and government-controlled," he said. "It's membership-run and membership-controlled. But it does provide a nonprofit competitor for the for-profit insurance companies, and that's why it has appeal on both sides."

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said Obama's team is making a political calculation and embracing the co-op alternative as "a step away from the government takeover of the health care system" that the GOP has pummeled.

"I don't know if it will do everything people want, but we ought to look at it. I think it's a far cry from the original proposals," he said.

Republicans say a public option would have unfair advantages that would drive private insurers out of business. Critics say co-ops would not be genuine public options for health insurance.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, said it would be difficult to pass any legislation through the Democratic-controlled Congress without the promised public plan.

"We'll have the same number of people uninsured," she said. "If the insurance companies wanted to insure these people now, they'd be insured."

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., said the Democrats' option would force individuals from their private plans to a government-run plan as some employers may choose not to provide health insurance.

"Tens of millions of individuals would be moved from their personal, private insurance to the government-run program. We simply don't think that's acceptable," he said.

A shift to a cooperative plan would certainly give some cover to fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats who are hardly cheering for the government-run plan.

"The reality is that it takes 60 percent to get this done in the Senate. It's probably going to have to be bipartisan in the Senate, which I think it should be," said Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., who added that the proposals still need changes before he can support them.

Obama, writing in Sunday's New York Times, said political maneuvers should be excluded from the debate.

"In the coming weeks, the cynics and the naysayers will continue to exploit fear and concerns for political gain," he wrote. "But for all the scare tactics out there, what's truly scary - truly risky - is the prospect of doing nothing."

Congress' proposals, however, seemed likely to strike end-of-life counseling sessions. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has called the session "death panels," a label that has drawn rebuke from her fellow Republicans as well as Democrats.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, declined to criticize Palin's comments and said Obama wants to create a government-run panel to advise what types of care would be available to citizens.

"In all honesty, I don't want a bunch of nameless, faceless bureaucrats setting health care for my aged citizens in Utah," Hatch said.

Sebelius said the end-of-life proposal was likely to be dropped from the final bill.

"We wanted to make sure doctors were reimbursed for that very important consultation if family members chose to make it, and instead it's been turned into this scare tactic and probably will be off the table," she said.

Sebelius spoke on CNN's "State of the Union" and ABC's "This Week." Gibbs appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation." Conrad and Shelby appeared on "Fox News Sunday." Johnson, Price and Ross spoke with "State of the Union." Hatch was interviewed on "This Week."

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  • by Tim Location: Wilmar on Aug 17, 2009 at 10:50 AM
    I know, as much as it appears I argue with Lavon, I am going through Lavon withdrawal on this one. I miss you Lavon, where are you my misguided friend. I now know I am not alone, Rufus misses you as well. You know Rufus its hard for a boat to make it to port when the wind has been taken from its sails. And unfortunately for Lavon if it sits idle in the water long enough, it takes on a foul stench, begins to rot, and eventually sinks. Taking everyone on board down with it. This sounds pretty accurate, don't you think?
  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on Aug 17, 2009 at 10:50 AM
    Rufus, I think Lavon actually had to do their job today...maybe earn their state/federal money? He is either leaning on a shovel or driving a state car. I read some of the bill you mentioned, I am educated...but I couldn't understand what it was imposing or not. Even attorneys don't know the meaning of some of the paragraphs. Remember, this bill was being shoved through quickly until the blue dogs stood up and said no. Otherwise, this is what we would have coming. Now that the elderly are involved, the sleeping giant silent majority, there will be a lot of changes. I think its funny that AARP has gotten so many calls in the last few weeks by pissed seniors. They were not aware that AARP helped support Obama in office. Gave their money, you betcha! They wonder why AARP has fallen membership.
  • by RUFUS on Aug 17, 2009 at 10:09 AM
    TIM- I think He's scared to show up on this Post. HE's got nothing- Well other than his Obama's the greatest, I worship the gound he walks on spill. Give him time, He'll show, just like he always does. I'm missing my morning dose of him though. He keeps my laughing all day. He's knows he's been defeated this time.
  • by anon Location: wallace on Aug 17, 2009 at 08:50 AM
    by the way , in my earlier post i meant that obama will be voted out in 2012 along with all the other politicians that have turned their back on the people like arlen BENEDICT/ SPECTACLE specton in PA. he is as good as gone. oh by the way , why is the white house placing blame on a 3rd party about the e mails they are sending out from axelrods office? washington dc is like an old washer now. STUCK IN A SPIN CYCLE [ LIES]?????
  • by Wolfgang Location: Chocowinity on Aug 17, 2009 at 08:06 AM
    Pres Harry Truman Quote." If you want a friend in Washington DC. Get a dog" I guess Obama should have read a little Harry, because he just got kicked off his high horse. Looks like Obama won't become the first American Caeser. Also looks like Obama only has about 3 more years in office. Power to the people.
  • by Tim Location: Wilmar on Aug 17, 2009 at 08:00 AM
    Hey Rufus where Lavon at? Lavon has been on this morning but not here what up with that? And jennifer are you a kool aid constituent, or member of the pot smoking bimbos college student guild. That is all that backs Obama, free loaders wanting something for nothing or hippies who cry "peace-love-DOPE" Where do you fit in the mix. Hey moderators, let her say what she wants, its all good. If you dish it out you have to be able to take it.
  • by RUFUS on Aug 17, 2009 at 07:43 AM
    JENNIFER- Does that make you a Racist for Not Liking Bush? You now have a Black man as President of the United States,he was voted in by all races, Yes that's right Jennifer, all races. Your Calling us Racist just because we disagree with one of his policies just doesn't work anymore. How do you even know we're all White? I could be African American, If I am, does that make me a Racist towards my own race? Is that even possible. TED could not have put it any better. Read the bill, it's actually pretty easy to find, just do an internet search. then come back here and explain it to us the best you can. Good luck with that to because I really don't think anyone understands what it says.
  • by The flood Location: Greenville on Aug 17, 2009 at 07:23 AM
    This is just an attempt at rebranding and reimaging. The dems are too beholden to the trial lawyers to actually try any tort reform or anything that would slow the frivilous lawsuits that are really killing our system.
  • by RUFUS on Aug 17, 2009 at 07:07 AM
    This has got to be killing LAVON- This was his big selling point the few times he Debated. He wanted CHOICE, He wanted a government Run Insurance Plan. Well Lavon, Seems like maybe your in the Minority now, Maybe you should just sit back and let us show you how to put a HC bill together. Maybe take back our Country while we're at it. We all want a HC bill that's best for this COUNTRY, Nobody, not even you understands the entire bill. Now because your Mesidah ahs changed his mind and caved about the Public option, I imagine you'll do the same. your argument now will be HC reform as a whole. face it LAVON, your argument doesn't hold water anymore. The PEOPLE have spoken and your Mesiah has listened, just like a President is suppossed to do, LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE, Not just YOU.
  • by Patriot Location: Washington on Aug 17, 2009 at 06:41 AM
    Jennifer: FYI: It is NOT racist to disagree with Obama and his administration/policies/excessive spending of tax dollars. It is NOT racist to disagree with HR-3200 (have you read it?) Just wondering if you ever disagreed with Bush...did that make us racist, as well?
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