Obama backs off public health care option

(AP) - President Barack Obama is willing to embraceinsurance cooperatives over a government-run plan as the WhiteHouse faces mounting opposition to its broad overhaul of thenation's health care system.

Bowing to Republican pressure and offering political cover tofiscally conservative Democrats, Obama's administration signaled onSunday that it is ready to abandon the idea of giving Americans theoption of government-run insurance. The shift leaves open a chancefor compromise with Republicans that probably would enrage Obama'sliberal supporters but could deliver a much-needed victory on a topdomestic priority.

Officials from both political parties are looking forconcessions while Congress is on an August recess. Facing toughaudiences, lawmakers and the White House are looking for a way tocover the nation's almost 50 million uninsured while maintainingpolitical standing.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said thata government alternative to private health insurance is "not theessential element" of the administration's health care overhaul.The White House would be open to co-ops, she said, a sign thatDemocrats want a compromise so they can declare a victory.

Under a proposal by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., consumer-ownednonprofit cooperatives would sell insurance in competition withprivate industry, not unlike the way electric and agricultureco-ops operate, especially in rural states such as his own.

With $3 billion to $4 billion in initial support from thegovernment, the co-ops would operate under a national structurewith state affiliates, but independent of the government. Theywould be required to maintain the type of financial reserves thatprivate companies are required to keep in case of unexpectedly highclaims.

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