By Deborah Charles
WASHINGTON, July 29 (Reuters) – Republican and Democratic senators negotiating financial details of healthcare reform have made great progress and are on the verge of a deal, a key Republican senator said on Wednesday.
“We have made great progress. Every day we make some progress,” Senator Charles Grassley, one of the three Republicans from Senate Finance Committee involved in the talks to overhaul the healthcare system, told NPR radio.
“Will we get it done so we can get a bill to the other members by this weekend because there is a certain time you've got to give people to study it? We're on the edge, and almost there,” he said in the interview.
President Barack Obama has pinpointed healthcare as his top legislative priority and has pushed lawmakers to quickly reach a deal to rein in healthcare costs, improve care and cover most of the 46 million uninsured Americans.
Obama had asked both the Senate and House of Representatives to come up with initial draft bills before they leave for the August recess but this deadline looks increasingly unlikely to be met.
Grassley said lawmakers “wanted to do it right,” noting that lawmakers are trying to revamp one-sixth of the economy.
PUBLIC PLAN IDEA DIMS
Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee said on Tuesday the six negotiators were close to success in bipartisan talks, even if the full panel does not take up the bill before Congr
ess goes on a month-long break on Aug. 7.
Senate Finance negotiations have focused on a plan that would use nonprofit cooperatives to compete with private insurers to drive down costs, not the public plan favored by Obama and many other Democrats.
Shares of U.S. health insurers rose broadly on Tuesday on hopes that negotiators were moving away from the public plan idea, which has drawn strong opposition from insurers who fear it would destroy the private marketplace.
The Senate panel also is likely to back a tax on high-cost insurance policies to raise revenue and keep costs down.
Democrats in the House are also trying to reach agreement with conservative members of their own party on their version of the bill, but say a vote is unlikely before they head home on break at the end of the week.
Obama, who has put considerable political capital on the line in the healthcare debate, travels to North Carolina and Virginia on Wednesday where he will hold campaign-style events aimed at telling Americans why insurance reform means more security and stability for them and their families.
The White House said Obama would outline eight specific consumer protections he thinks are needed. They include: no discrimination for preexisting conditions, only reasonable out-of-pocket expenses, no dropping of coverage for serious illness, no gender discrimination, no annual or lifetime caps and extended coverage for young adults.