WASHINGTON — After days of secret talks, Senate Democrats tentatively agreed Tuesday night to drop a government-run insurance option from sweeping health care legislation, several officials said, a concession to party moderates whose votes are critical to passage of President Barack Obama's top domestic priority.
Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to provide any details at a mid-evening news conference where he told reporters a "broad agreement" had been reached between liberals and moderates on the controversial issue.
With it, he said, the end is in sight for passage of the legislation that Congress has labored over for months.
In place of a government-run plan, originally designed as a way of forcing competition on private industry, officials said the Democrats had tentatively settled on a private insurance arrangement to be supervised by the federal agency that oversees the system through which lawmakers purchase coverage. Additionally, the tentative deal calls for Medicare to be opened to uninsured Americans beginning at age 55, a significant expansion of the large government health care program that currently serves the 65-and-over population.
The officials who described the details did so on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss them publicly. Despite their reluctance, some senators had talked openly earlier in the day about the progress of the negotiations.
The developments followed a vote on the Senate floor earlier in the day in which abortion opponents failed to inject tougher restrictions into sweeping health care bill, and Democratic leaders labored to make sure fallout from the issue didn't hamper the drive to enact legislation. The vote was 54-45.