Another option on the table is that of a "trigger" public option, a plan pushed by Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, the only Republican to vote for a Democratic health care bill. Under this plan, a public option would go into effect in those areas where private insurers failed to provide affordable, accessible coverage to Americans.
Baucus said instead of a public option -- which he claims will not garner enough votes on the Senate floor to pass a bill -- member-owned, nonprofit co-operatives would be able to better compete with private insurance providers.
Liberal Democrats, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are standing firmly behind the public option. Pelosi favors a public option plan modeled after Medicare. But some fiscally conservative Democrats are concerned about spiraling costs that could result from such a measure. The White House so far has been mum on the issue of whether the president would support a bill without such an option.
"I shockingly don't have a lot new on this," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday when pressed by reporters on the issue. "We want to see, in legislation that goes throughout this process, that ensures choice and competition."
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., whose vote Democrats will need to overcome a Republican filibuster of health care reform, rejected altogether the notion of a public option in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday.
"I don't remember another case where our answer to a concern about fairness in the marketplace -- in this case whether there is real competition in the health insurance business, whether the health insurance companies are being fair in their rates, et cetera, et cetera, all important, reasonable questions -- I don't remember another case where the answer to that was to create a government-owned corporation to compete with the private sector," Lieberman said.
Some Democrats are also skeptical about whether a public option will help the health care sector.
"I am not a big fan of public option," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who chairs the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, on Fox News Wednesday. "We already have two public options that most people in America understand, Medicaid and Medicare. Both have very, very serious problems. One is going to be bankrupt in seven years, and the other one doctors don't want to participate."
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is leading the closed-door negotiations, said he's still in support of a government-sponsored insurance option.
"I'm glad I'm in the majority," Reid said Wednesday, referring to the popularity of public option in polls. "I support a public option."
Analysts say that of all the various measures in the proposed bills, consumers will first and most significantly feel the impact of changes in the health insurance market.
Across the political spectrum, members of both parties -- in what is one of the few points of agreement in the health care debate -- are calling for the removal of pre-existing conditions that deter many Americans from getting affordable coverage, if any at all.