Pelosi Signals Flexibility on Alternatives to Public Option

Posted December 10, 2009 at 11:54am

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), long the most powerful advocate for a public insurance option in a sweeping health care overhaul, on Thursday signaled she could live without one in a final package.

Senate Democrats are considering a compromise measure that drops the plan in favor of expanding eligibility for Medicare and Medicaid and setting up a national health care plan similar to the one for federal employees.

Pelosi said she is reserving judgment on that proposal until she sees its details. But she indicated there would be broad support among House Democrats for lowering the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 55. And while she said the public option “is the best way to hold insurance companies honest, to keep them honest, and also to increase competition,— she also repeated her oft-stated willingness to entertain another proposal that would achieve the same ends.

“Give the Senate room. Let’s see what it is,— she said.

The Speaker said she is confident the two chambers can resolve differences between their health care reform bills — including an explosive debate over how strictly to limit access to abortions. “There’s never been any question that there would be no federal funding. That’s the law,— she said. “It’s just a question of finding the language.—

But she threw cold water on the notion of skipping a formal conference committee. Given that, it appears unlikely the two chambers could wrap up work on the package this year. Pelosi nevertheless left open the possibility of bringing lawmakers back before New Year’s if the chambers find agreement. “I think we would do almost anything if it meant we would pass health care for all Americans over the Christmas holidays,— she said.

Meanwhile, Pelosi said her chamber is on schedule to wrap the rest of its work for the year by Dec. 16, which would allow her to travel to Copenhagen for the international climate change summit.