Wed, Dec 16, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Senate Democrats could scrap Medicare change

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

US Senate Democratic leaders said on Monday that they were prepared to drop a proposed expansion of Medicare and scrap a new government-run health insurance plan as they tried to rally their caucus in hopes of passing the bill before Christmas.

After a tense 90-minute meeting on Monday evening, Senator Max Baucus, the chairman of the Finance Committee, was asked if Democrats were likely to jettison the Medicare proposal.

“It’s looking like that’s the case,” Baucus said, indicating that the provision might be scrapped as a way of “getting support from 60 senators.”

Under the proposal, uninsured people ages 55 to 64 could purchase Medicare coverage. The Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, floated the idea about 10 days ago as a way to break an impasse over his earlier proposal to create a government-run health insurance plan.

The signal from the party leadership came after the closed-door session to gauge sentiment for moving ahead with a pared-back measure that would not contain elements that liberal lawmakers had sought, particularly a public health insurance option.

Lawmakers and top aides said that the overriding view at the session held just off the Senate floor was that they had come too far in the health care debate to give up and that they should forge ahead with some legislation even if it was not all that they wanted.

After the meeting, lawmakers said they believed that chances were increased for completing a health care bill and that a final product would be a substantial improvement over the current system.

“If you compared it to the alternative, it looks good,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said about the prospect of moving ahead with a measure that does not have a public health insurance option.

“If you compare it to the possibilities, it looks pretty sad,” Whitehouse said.

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