On the verge of a deal?

ON THE VERGE OF A DEAL?…. A group of five center-left Dems and five center-right Dems — they’re apparently now called the “Team of Ten” — began working in earnest over the weekend on striking kind of deal on the public option. The issue has proven to be the most contentious element of the health care debate, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the members engaged in the talks, “Time to get this done.”

Any number of outcomes are still possible, but as of now, the participants are nearing a deal. As the framework takes shape, the public option is out — but progressives have gotten quite a bit in exchange (no pun intended).

A potential deal took shape Monday that could eliminate the public option from the Senate health reform bill, as Democrats weighed big expansions of both Medicare and Medicaid in a bid to break an impasse over the government insurance plan. […]

After five days of intensive talks among five moderates and five liberals, the outlines of a compromise aimed at appeasing both ends of the Democratic political spectrum were emerging: a plan designed to expand insurance coverage without creating a new government-run program.

Details, not surprisingly, are still rather elusive, but the deal would reportedly include the “OPM Plan,” a national, non-profit health plan along the lines of the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan, administered by the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the plan for federal employees and has experience negotiating with private plans. This would, in effect, replace the public option.

But there would also be a Medicare “buy-in” for Americans 55 and older, and expanding Medicaid to cover people with incomes 150 percent above the poverty line.

Specifically on Medicare expansion, eligibility would likely be limited to those who would otherwise get their coverage through an exchange, but this is a key group — as Jonathan Cohn explained, “People between the ages of 55 and 64 have a notoriously hard time buying coverage on their own, since their age and higher incidence of disease makes them the sorts of high medical risks insurers don’t want to cover.”

Could the deal fall apart? Of course it could — these are Democrats we’re talking about. But most of those involved seemed optimistic late yesterday, and even Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) conceded that the “discussions are going in the right direction…. To the extent that they continue to go in that direction is obviously very positive.”

The Senate leadership wants to see a deal struck by this evening. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said the group may reach a compromise as early as this afternoon. Stay tuned.