Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), the final Democratic holdout on health care, announced to his caucus Saturday morning that he would support the Senate reform bill, clearing the way for final passage by Christmas.
“We’re there,” said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), as he headed into a special meeting to outline the deal.
Democratic leaders spent days trying to hammer out a deal with Nelson, and worked late Friday night with him on abortion coverage language that had proved the major stumbling block. Nelson also secured other favors for his home state.
Under the new abortion provisions, states can opt out of allowing plans to cover abortion in insurance exchanges the bill would set up to serve individuals who don’t have employer coverage. Plus, enrollees in plans that do cover abortion procedures would pay for the coverage with separate checks – one for abortion, one for rest of health-care services.
Nelson secured full federal funding for his state to expand Medicaid coverage to all individuals below 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Other states must pay a small portion of the additional cost. He won concessions for qualifying nonprofit insurers and for Medigap providers from a new insurance tax. He also was able to roll back cuts to health savings accounts.
“I know this is hard for some of my colleagues to accept and I appreciate their right to disagree,” Nelson told reporters at the Capitol, of the many changes made at his behest. “But I would not have voted for this bill without these provisions.”
With Nelson’s vote, and with that of Joe Lieberman–now that there is no vestige of a public option included in the Senate bill–Senate Democrats are now at 60, which means that they are able to pass the Reid bill this coming week.
Of course, the fun part comes with the conference committee meetings, in which differences between the House and Senate versions of health care reform have to get hashed out. If any effort is made to put something resembling the public option back in the conference committee report, Senate Democrats will once again lose Lieberman’s vote, as well as Nelson’s. But if anything resembling the public option is kept out, then House liberals may well revolt.
I don’t know if there is enough popcorn in the world to deal with what’s coming down the pipeline.