Discuss as:

A new health-care option?

From NBC's Ken Strickland
As Republicans renewed their fierce opposition to almost every version of a public health insurance plan, Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad put a new idea on the table Monday. It's described as a non-profit, co-op type system that would serve as an alternative to private insurance plans. It would not be government run.

The concept was discussed in a closed-door meeting yesterday with members of the Senate Finance Committee.

"It would be non-profit, that would have the same plans and would be subject to the same standards [as private plans]," said Conrad, as he left the meeting. "That would provide an alternative to for-profit insurance companies, so that there's a different delivery model for competition."

More details of the plan should be known today. But the committee's top Republican, Chuck Grassley, acknowledged a new idea had been discussed.

"I don't want any public option," Grassley said, "but there was a thing suggested that would be kind of a private-sector option along the lines of co-ops." 

Grassley was non-committal on whether he supported the concept. "I don't want to say right now," Grassley said.

Committee Chairman Max Baucus said Conrad's plan included one key component that would separate it from the other public options most Republicans reject.

"It's not government run," he said. "We're trying to figure out a way to help keep the insurance companies feet to the fire in a way that doesn't frighten Republicans away, because it sounds too much like government [controlled]."

Still, Baucus admitted a lot more information was needed.

"It's new," he said. "We have to figure it out. How's this work? How do co-ops start up in various parts of the country? We have deep experience in our part of the country (Montana), but what about New York City, for example?"

Without naming the Conrad plan specifically, Republican Orrin Hatch was skeptical of any new Democratic ideas.

"The public plan is a non-starter," Hatch said. "They're trying to come up with various ways of having a public plan without calling it that. And I just don't see that working."