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A (Small) Win for Wyden and Choice

Ron Wyden will have his day and, in somewhat scaled-down fashion, he'll have his way.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, Finance Chairman Max Baucus, and Wyden just announced that they will be amending health care legislation to include a compromise version of Wyden's free choice amendment.

A press statement explains the details of the deal, which culminated weeks of hardball negotiations:

Under the Senate legislation as it is currently written, Americans with employer-provided coverage, whose income is below 400 percent of the federal poverty level and whose premiums are between 8 and 9.8 percent of their total income will be exempt from having to purchase health coverage but will not be able to access the exchange to qualify for government assistance to purchase insurance.  The agreed to amendment will make it possible for these individuals to convert their tax-free employer health subsidies into vouchers that they can use to choose a health insurance plan in the new health insurance exchanges.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates a previous version of this provision will expand coverage to more than a million Americans.

Of course, Wyden once crusaded for something much grander: Opening the exchanges to everybody. But employers and labor hated the idea, effectively killing it. That Wyden was able to get anything at all represents an accomplishment--and, perhaps, the start of something bigger, as he hinted today:

As I have long said, empowering Americans to choose the health insurance that works best for them and their family is the single best way to hold health insurance companies accountable. While this is just one step in the direction of guaranteeing choices for all Americans, it is a major step because – for the first time – it introduces the concept of individual choice to a marketplace where it has long been foreign.  This is a significant step toward real reform.