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Snowe's Trigger

September 9, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

If there is a bipartisan compromise to be struck on healthcare, it’s going to involve the Democrats bending towards Sen. Olympia Snowe [R, ME]. Senate Democrats have been in discussions with Snowe for months to try to find a version of the bill they can both support. Recently, the talks have honed in on taking out the public health insurance option and replacing it with a “trigger” that would allow a public plan to be created if teh private insurance companies don’t expand coverage to more people on their own.

Suzy Khimm at the New Republic spoke with “some sources close to the debate” and has the scoop on the specifics of Snowe’s trigger:

First, the government would establish a standard of “affordability” – yet to be determined – that would gauge whether Americans had access to reasonably priced health insurance, based on their income, family size, employer-backed benefits, subsidies, and so forth. Then, on a state-by-state basis, the government would test to see whether enough people—about 95 percent—had access to affordable coverage according to this standard. And if the private reforms alone weren’t enough in a given state, a government-backed “safety net option” (as Snowe prefers to call it) would be introduced into the state’s health insurance exchange. The fall-back option—which would essentially be the same government plan wherever it was implemented—would be run by a non-profit organization that would serve as a kind of a hammer over private industry to make sure it will perform.

Notably, Snowe wants the government to make this determination as far as a year before the insurance reforms actually go into effect (around 2013 in the Baucus plan/HELP bill). The idea is that private insurance companies would have to release their pricing and bids well in advance, so we wouldn’t have to wait and see if the system fails to make coverage affordable. This appears to be the thinking behind Snowe’s recent comments that she’d “support a public plan which is available from day one—in any state where private plans fail to ensure guaranteed affordable coverage.”

Could liberals accept something like this? The affordability standards still need to be worked out, but with the other options being Baucus’ co-ops or the hail-mary budget reconciliation approach, I’m guessing they could.

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