Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and responsible for leading healthcare reform, said comprehensive health reform is "on track," but is more likely to be ready by next fall, rather than the initial goal of this June.
At a press meeting hosted Monday by the American Progress Action Fund, Baucus said his committee is making good progress, but the hard part has not yet started. Congress will have to forge compromises on difficult subjects such as private versus public plans and how to finance reforms.
"I think all of us agree that the stars are maybe finally aligned this year for the passage of meaningful healthcare reform," he said.
Baucus said the legislation being discussed has so far focused on Medicare reimbursement reform, the creation of an interconnected health plan exchange, increasing quality of care and making care more uniform across the country.
He said he won't rule out a public plan, but for now has it "on the side of the table." He emphasized bipartisan support as necessary to make reform sustainable.
Vivek Murthy, MD, president and co-founder of Doctors for America, with 11,000 members, said physicians are behind healthcare reform and are open to a public plan. "Nothing is off the table in our mind set," Murthy said.
"We need to best serve our patients. That is what we are trained to do," Murthy said. Disappointed by how the system prevents doctors from delivering the best care, his organization has launched a campaign to educate lawmakers and work with Congress on health reform.
"We look forward to making sure this happens this year," Murthy said.
John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, said the center is a "strong supporter" of a public plan. But he agreed with the strategy of working on common ground first.
"If you begin with a series of non-negotiable demands, it's hard to get the conversation started," he said.