And there are even huger differences between the two bills beyond the right to sue. The scope of the House bill, for example, is far larger than that of the Senate. It would cover all 161 million Americans with employee-sponsored health insurance, while the Senate would largely apply to just 48 million Americans -- those in plans that are not governed by state laws. Senate Republicans have argued that states should regulate the other health plans.
The two bills also have major differences in the appeals processes they would establish for individuals over care denials and other grievances.
Significant haggling over the details is certain, but the question is, according to conferee Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., "Can the Senate come far enough for the House to accept it?"
If the Senate comes, it may be kicking and screaming. The Senate Republican Policy Committee put out a document touting estimates that the House bill would jack up premiums so much that 1.2 million Americans would lose their coverage. The policy committee was citing data generated through employer and insurance groups.
And Nickles said Thursday that the top consideration for a final bill was that it "do no harm," such as raising costs and increasing the number of uninsured Americans. "Let's try to take the best of both bills," he said.
The conference committee plans to hold its second meeting on March 9.