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Every new report on Massachusetts' effort to create universal health care entirely through private insurance raises the red flag higher--the insurers keep finding new ways to undercut affordability. Even so, a leaked plan by Sen. Ted Kennedy to model national reform on the Massachusetts effort contains--maybe--a saving grace.

Today's story in the Washington Post says the Kennedy plan includes, so far, a strong competitor to the insurance industry--a public option to the for-profit model that dominates U.S. health care:

Kennedy ... embraces a proposal to create a government-sponsored insurance program to compete directly with existing private insurance plans, according to one senior adviser who was not authorized to talk to reporters.

The draft summary also calls for opening Medicaid to those whose incomes are 500 percent of the federal poverty level, or $110,250.00 a year for a family of four.

These options would let Americans--and possibly their employers--chose an option that wrings out the bloated administrative costs and profits of private insurance. It's the kind of effective competition that the insurance industry is fighting tooth and nail with its faux "cooperation".

The scuttlebutt from the other reform plan cooking in Washington, in the Senate Finance Committee, is that Chairman Max Baucus (a top recipient of insurance industry money) and his GOP counterpart Sen. Charles Grassley are embracing the industry view--that a public option would be "unfair competition" to Blue Cross and friends. Baucus and Grassley have slammed a door of public secrecy on their deliberations, and you can bet the insurance lobby is not sitting on the outside

The question now is whether Kennedy has the power and stamina to demand that the private industry cede its control over national health reform, including its power to delay, deny and price Americans out of real health care. A report that Kennedy's brain cancer is in remission was short-lived, but he's clearly beating the usual odds on his condition. His expected presence Monday as the Senate reconvenes may provide an answer.