Is there a compromise idea to settle this conflict?
One middle-ground proposal being floated is to create a network of private, nonprofit health ''co-ops,'' run in states or regionally, to compete with private insurance companies. But questions arise about how quickly co-ops could be established and how effectively they would control costs.
"I'm not sure it's a plausible alternative,'' Taylor says.
Another idea is to hold off on a public insurance option, but add it later if the initial reform legislation fails to contain health costs and extend coverage to a sufficient number of uninsured.
Will someone with pre-existing medical conditions be able to get insurance under the proposed plan?
Today, many people with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes cannot get health insurance. Reform would bar insurers from denying coverage and from basing premiums on health status.
Many people don't have health insurance because they can't afford it. Will reform make health care more affordable?
It will depend on each situation. An ''exchange'' with real competition would likely lower health insurance premiums for many individuals and small businesses, which don't have the buying power that large corporations have. Individuals also will get help if they qualify for subsidies. Young and healthy individuals, though, may wind up paying more. People with job-based coverage likely ''won't see much of a difference,'' says Bill Custer, a Georgia State University health insurance expert.
What interest groups are involved in influencing the debate?
The big groups with much to gain or lose are the health insurers, doctors, hospitals, and prescription drug companies. It's too early to say who will be real financial winners under health reform. That will become apparent after legislation is passed, Custer says.
What's the price tag for legislation?
The magic number appears to be $1 trillion over 10 years. It could go higher, but congressional leaders are working hard to keep it to that level or below. Obama has said he wants a reform plan to be fully paid for and not add to the federal deficit.
How are Congress and Obama proposing to pay for it? Will we be taxed?
Reform likely will produce a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts on programs like Medicare. The House plan would apply an income tax surcharge on the wealthiest Americans. Another idea is to limit the tax exemption on the most expensive health benefits plans from employers; job-based benefits for workers are currently excluded from taxes. Other proposals would raise taxes on alcohol and even introduce a levy on sugary drinks.
What's the outlook for major reform passing into law?
The outlook is probably 50/50. "It's the best chance in a long time,'' Taylor says. It could get messy this fall, though, when a deadline for a deal nears. "There's a real risk of an inability to compromise,'' Ginsburg says. Still, Obama and the major stakeholders are pushing hard on the issue. Davis, who is optimistic, says, "The president has made it a high-stakes issue. In the end, they'll find solutions to these problems.''