CBC backs public Medicare-like program

The Congressional Black Caucus says that a public plan similar to Medicare must be included in the healthcare overhaul, a sharply different position than some of their more conservative fellow Democrats.

The 41-member group also said in a letter to President Obama that such legislation also should address historic disparities in healthcare. The letter notes that CBC members' constituents are disproportionately under-insured or uninsured.

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"We ... respectfully, but firmly urge you to ensure that efforts to reform the nation's health care system integrate aggressive solutions to the nation's current plight with health disparities," said the letter, obtained by The Hill.

The letter, sent Friday, was signed by CBC chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Rep. Donna Christensen (D-V.I.) and Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.)

The CBC position squares with that of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who on Friday called for an expansive, Medicare-based public plan that is "available to all individuals and employers."

But earlier last week, the conservative Blue Dog coalition issued guiding principles that said a public plan should be a last-resort if private insurers are unable to contain costs and provide coverage. The group of 51 conservative Democrats stressed that it wasn't endorsing the inclusion of a public plan, and is "concerned" about a Medicare-like option.

The CBC and the Progressive Caucus share many members. Only two Blue Dogs are members of the CBC.

The CBC is joining with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus in a news conference Tuesday that will call for the health care overhaul to address racial disparities.

The three caucuses, commonly called the TriCaucus, will also announce that they're pushing for a public system that includes mental and dental benefits; strengthening the Office of Minority Health within the Department of Health and Human Services; progress on cultural and linguistic concerns such as credentialing for medical translators; and the inclusion of racial and ethnic diversity in clinical trials to discover effects on a broad range of groups.