- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 21, 2009

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said Thursday that he supports “a version” of a public, or government-run healthy insurance plan, but that it should not provide coverage for illegal immigrants.

“I do support a version” of a public option, he said, adding that’s it’s a “hot-button” issue.

“There’s ways to skin a cat. There’s ways of finding a solution,” he said, hinting that he’s come up with a public-private combination alternative that he declined to reveal.

“There’s going to be a lot of tradeoffs,” said Mr. Baucus, a Montana Democrat whose committee is expected to write the bulk of the Senate’s health care reform plan. “This is just so large.”

The idea of a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers is shaping up as a key battleground in the health debate. The Obama administration favors the idea, but private industry groups and many congressional Republicans fiercely oppose the concept, saying the public option will dominate the market.

Mr. Baucussaid estimates suggest a health care reform plan would cove 94 to 96 percent of all people in the United States, including those that have existing coverage. He said his bill will not include coverage of illegal immigrants because it’s too “politically explosive.”

Mr. Baucus spoke to reporters at an event sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

He reiterated that his requirements for a plan include: allowing those already covered to keep their current health plan if they prefer; allowing consumers to choose their own physicians; and industry reforms to eliminate the “gross discrimination” by insurers to avoid covering the very old or very ill.

Mr. Baucus said he expects Democrats will likely sign on with his committee’s plan, once it’s written.

“And I think a good number of Republicans will agree.”

He said there’s a 75 to 80 percent chance the bill will be a bipartisan effort.

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