WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senators leading the debate on revamping the U.S. healthcare system held out hope on Thursday of bipartisan compromise on even the most contentious issue of broadening the government role in providing medical coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat, and the panel’s top Republican, Senator Charles Grassley, told reporters lawmakers were still weighing options on how to cover the uninsured and had not ruled out a proposed new government plan, sought by many Democrats.
“We might be able to find a consensus,” said Grassley.
The two Senators, who are playing key roles in writing legislation aimed at reducing soaring costs and expanding coverage, spoke to reporters following a day-long closed door session with panel members.
Earlier on Thursday President Barack Obama said he and others would have to compromise in crafting legislation.
“It may not have everything I want in there or everything you want in there but it will be a vast improvement over what we currently have,” Obama told a town hall meeting in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.
Grassley said senators had yet to settle on a single approach to expanding coverage to an estimated 46 million Americans who lack health insurance, adding that there had been some “conflict” in the room.
Most Americans with insurance are covered through their employers. But millions get medical coverage through Medicare and Medicaid government programs for the elderly and poor and another program for low income children.
Democrats want a new public plan to compete with private insurers, arguing it would help reduce costs. Republicans and insurance companies oppose the idea, contending it would drive private insurers out of business.
The Finance Committee is one of two Senate committee writing the legislation that Obama wants to sign into law before year’s end. He says bringing down healthcare costs will help the economy and make U.S. companies more competitive.
Democratic leaders in the Senate and the House of Representatives hope both chambers can pass legislation by August. That would give them time in the autumn to work out differences and meet Obama’s deadline.
The House has begun stepping up efforts to develop legislation. Their bill is likely to include a public health plan as well as a requirement for people to obtain insurance.
additional reporting by David Alexander, editing by Alan Elsner