Two centrist Senators who will play vital roles in the health care debate, said on Sunday that they were intrigued by the idea of structuring co-operatives for health care coverage in place of a public option favored by most progressives.
Sens. Susan Collins and Ben Nelson lauded the proposal of their co-panelist, Sen. Kent Conrad, during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union." In the process the Maine Republican and Nebraska Democrat left the obvious impression that if the Senate were to introduce a health care reform proposal structured around co-ops and not a publicly run health care option, the legislation would garner the 60-votes potentially needed for passage.
"It is an intriguing idea," said Collins. "I commend Senator Conrad for coming up with this idea. It is far preferable to the government run plan that has been discussed by the administration. This is a possible compromise. I need to know more details. We need to know how it would work. But it is certainly better than a Washington-run plan."
Added Nelson: "Senator Conrad's onto something here. This can be an additional method for competition."
To this point, both Collins and Nelson have hinted that they would not support a public option for health coverage - citing the argument that it could drive private insurers out of the market by creating unfair competition. Their respective votes could play key roles should the Senate consider the matter with a filibuster threshold. Nelson, however, has indicated he would vote for cloture on a public option even if he ultimately opposed the bill.
Conrad's proposal is designed as a third-way of sorts between a public option and the status quo. Co-ops would be membership-owned and operated, run as non-profit organizations, adhere to state laws for health care coverage, and provide health care insurance for individuals and micro-business
Reaction to Conrad's co-op idea has been mixed, with a bit of trepidation among progressives who are skeptical it would bring about systemic change to the health care industry and generally want to see more details, including what enforcement mechanisms and eligibility requirements might look like. On Sunday, the North Dakota Democrat didn't get too deep into the micro-analysis, choosing instead to tout his plan's most significant attribute. He has the votes, he said, and the public plan doesn't.
"The problem is votes, at the end of the day, nothing advances unless you get 60 votes in the United States Senate," he said. "I know there are some who say we can do this through reconciliation... I think on exploration people find that really does not work... So I think you're in a 60-vote environment, and that means you have to attract some Republicans as well as holding virtual all the Democrats together. That, I don't believe, is possible with the pure public option. I don't think the votes are there."