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Doctors' Group Backs Baucus' Health Care Strategy

As Congress and the Obama administration attempt to push health care legislation to the president's desk by this fall, the Senate this week begins a fresh round of debates over proposals to include in the bill the option of a government-managed health care plan.

"This is probably one of the two or three 800 pound gorillas" in the room, Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters Monday.

The senator, whose committee holds jurisdiction over health care legislation, has irked some on the left for not wholly embracing a government-managed plan. He said the proposal will be addressed in a roundtable discussion with more than a dozen people tomorrow.

"I've told everybody everything is on the table," he said. "It's important to get to the assumptions behind the proposal and find some commonality."

Baucus is not the only one interested in keeping options open. The senator joined the Center for American Progress on Monday to announce the re-formation of Doctors for America, a grassroots organization of over 11,000 doctors in support of health care reform. Formerly known as Doctors for Obama, the group during the 2008 campaign advocated Barack Obama's proposal for a government-managed option.

On Monday, however, Doctors for America President and Co-Founder Vivek Murthy said the group supported Baucus' flexible approach.

"We do think a public plan is worth considering," Murthy said. "A key priority for us is whatever is put forth does improve access (to health care)... Nothing is off the table."

Baucus said his committee will probably review two or three alternatives, such as the health care "exchange" system in Massachusetts, which requires consumers to purchase a private plan that meets government-established minimum standards.

"Otherwise, it's going to be difficult to pass the Senate," he said. "It may pass the House and it may pass the Senate, too, using a procedure called reconciliation."

The threat of using reconciliation--a legislative process that protects a bill from the threat of filibuster--has ruffled the feathers of Republicans, as well as some Democrats. Last week, Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), the day after switching to the Democratic party, voted against Mr. Obama's budget because it included a provision granting Congress the right to use reconciliation for health care reform.

Specter has said definitively that he does not support including a government-managed plan in health care legislation. Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has also said he is not in favor of the plan.

In order to pass the legislation without invoking reconciliation, however, neither senator would necessarily have to vote in favor of a health care plan with a government-managed plan--they would simply have to vote for cloture, in order to limit the debate and protect the bill from being filibustered.

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