Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Tuesday afternoon that he is "losing confidence that Senate Republicans will ever agree" to the creation of a national, nonprofit cooperative health care plan as an acceptable alternative to a public health care option, which Republicans strenuously oppose.
The national cooperative plan being floated in the Senate is comparable to the public option that President Obama and most Democrats are pushing for, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) told reporters. And that may be enough to doom it among Republicans.
The co-op plan has emerged as a rival to the public option. But Conrad and Schumer have been negotiating to create a cooperative plan that works like a public option. Conrad, the budget committee chairman and a lead health care reform negotiator, reiterated the state of ongoing negotiations Tuesday. "Several things with respect to co-ops," he said. "Number one, that there be a national structure and state affiliates and the affiliates be able to regionalize. Two, you need start up money for this effort. We're right now talking in the range of three to four billion dollars. Senator Schumer would like something more. And that [the regional co-op affiliates] would have the ability to pool their purchasing power. That's important to being fully competitive."
And that would yield the same sort of dynamic that the president and others are seeking with the public option?" a reporter asked.
"Yeah, exactly," said Conrad.
Conrad's co-op proposal is meant to accomplish the same goal as a public option while placating GOP fears that the government would run private insurance out of business.
But Republicans have been cool to the plan. "Yesterday, Senator Conrad indicated he could go along with many of these proposals, but Senator Conrad has never been the problem here. He's been well open to negotiating on how to make the co-op plan have the kind of clout to go up against the private insurance companies, be available to everyone, be able to bargain with the providers and be ready to go on day one," said Schumer. "It has been those on the other side of the aisle who have not been willing to negotiate."
The co-op plan has no purpose if it can't pick up Republican support. "I'm losing confidence that Senate Republicans will ever agree to the types of changes to a co-op to make it a viable alternative, a viable substitute to a tradition public plan that is nationwide and available to everybody," said Schumer on the Senate floor. "We can only bend so much to try to win over opponents of health care reform. We cannot bend so far that we break. We cannot say we're putting something else out there and not have it do the job. The public option is what really does the job."
If Democrats push through health care reform using the budget process known as reconciliation, Republicans would be unable to filibuster it.
Conrad, meanwhile, said that the Finance Committee had so far trimmed roughly $400 billion from the original proposal sent to the Congressional Budget Office.
"We're 200 billion [dollars] away from where we need to be," said Conrad, saying that the reform proposal would now cost about $1.2 trillion.
It still covers 96 percent of Americans with coverage at least "equivalent to Medicare, actuarially equivalent to Medicare," he said.
The senator said he's resisting efforts to make the proposal more generous, arguing that it must all be paid for. "People keep wanting to add cost. No, no, no, no, no, that's not where we're at," he said.