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Liberal Groups Still Demand the Public Option

Updated at 2:45 p.m. ET with remarks from President Obama.

After months of demanding a government-run health insurance option from Democrats, health care reform supporters are still pushing for the "public option" in the wake of an announcement of an agreement by Senate Democrat to forgo the plan.

The Health Care For America Now Campaign (HCAN), comprised of more than 1,000 organizations in 46 states, sent an e-mail to its supporters Tuesday night asking them to oppose the compromise devised by a group of five liberal Democrats and five conservative Democrats. More than 40,000 people have signed on so far, the group reports.

"All of this points to a fact those in the Senate considering this 'compromise' would do well to remember: The public option is extremely popular in America, and a significant portion of those who say they oppose health reform say so because this plan does not go far enough," Jason Rosenbaum wrote in the HCAN blog.

FDL Action, the political action committee associated with the liberal blog network FireDogLake, is running a similar petition calling on President Obama to keep the public option alive.

"The failure to establish a public option to control medical costs and increase competition is President Obama's failure alone," FireDogLake Founder Jane Hamsher wrote in an e-mail to supporters today.

Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the U.S., is launching its largest health care lobbying effort yet today, sending 175 state and local leaders to Washington. They are demanding Congress drop the Senate proposal to tax some employer-provided benefits, include the House proposal for an employer mandate and keep a "robust" public option. Special Report: Health Care

The organization has to see the details of the Senate's new plan and will continue to advocate today for the public option, AFL-CIO spokesperson Amaya Tune told Hotsheet. "We continue to believe that a robust public option is the best policy to keep insurance companies honest and bring down health care costs," Tune said.

However, she noted that the AFL-CIO has long been in favor of letting workers 55 and older buy into Medicare -- one of the core components of the Democrats' new compromise.

Here is a summary of the new proposals reportedly agreed to by the 10 Democrats:

• Expanding access to Medicare to people ages 55 to 64.

The Wall Street Journal reports that "the proposal would benefit an estimated two million to three million Americans who have difficulty obtaining coverage elsewhere, including those who have lost their jobs." The Journal points out this number is not far off from the number of Americans expected to benefit from the public option.

Moreover, the option for those 55 and older to buy into Medicare would go into effect in 2011, Politico reports, years before the public option could go into effect, given the time it would take to establish an entirely new bureaucracy.

• National, private, nonprofit health insurance options, administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

The federal office would negotiate prices at a national level, leveraging a large risk pool.

• Stricter regulations.

Insurance companies will be required to spend at least 90 percent of their premium income on providing benefits -- limiting their spending on things like salaries and profits.

• A "triggered" public option.

The Associated Press reports the plan includes a fallback, in case private insurance companies decline to participate in the OPM-administered nationwide network.

• Extension of the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

The popular program, which provides insurance for children in low-income families, was set to expire in 2013.

President Obama said today he supports the efforts of the Senate.

"The Senate made critical progress last night with a creative new framework that I believe will help pave the way for final passage and a historic achievement on behalf of the American people," Mr. Obama said.

Additionally, liberal former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, one of the leading proponents of the public option, said on the CBS "Early Show" this morning he was satisfied with the plan.

"I judge all these plans by whether they move things forward or move things backward. This moves things forward," he said. "This is still real reform. Whatever we call it is irrelevant."

He said, however, that the House health care bill does a better job of expanding coverage to the uninsured. As illustrated in our weekly Health Care Progress Report, the Senate bill and the House bill will have to be combined after the Senate passes its bill.

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