Conrad praises Baucus bill, defends concessions to GOP

The healthcare bill released by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) Wednesday is a good start and takes into account many Republican concerns, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said.

Conrad, a member of the centrist "gang of six" seeking to put together a bipartisan health bill in the Finance Committee, said that the bill released by committee chairman Max Baucus would help move health reform forward.

"It's a good product," Conrad said on CNBC. "It is an attempt by the chairman to lay out what he thinks reflects best the discussions over this extended period of time. And I think the chairman has done a good job of capturing where the talks are at this point."

Included in the plan are non-profit healthcare cooperatives, an idea first floated by Conrad in lieu of the public option, along with several other concessions to Republican lawmakers.

"Many of the concerns that our Republican colleagues raised have been included in the chairman's proposal," he said, citing provisions in the bill on abortion funding, coverage for illegal immigrants, and taxes on high-value insurance plans.

Conrad maintained that the bill is simply a starting point, though, and would be open to amendments from both Republicans and Democrats in the weeks and months to come.

"It's going to go through a whole series of changes, I'm sure, as we go through the committee process and then onto the floor of the Senate," Conrad said. "So there will be a lot of opportunities to improve it."

"You've got to start the process at some point, and this is a good beginning," he added.