By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 9/29/2009 9:39:49 AM ET 2009-09-29T13:39:49

Claim: A 'trigger' device may lead to the creation of a government-run insurance plan.

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Members of Congress are divided about the need for a government-run insurance plan to compete with private-sector firms. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, wants to amend the Senate Finance Committee bill with a "trigger" mechanism. Her public plan would begin to operate in any state in which affordable coverage was not available to at least 95 percent of the population. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said his first choice is immediate creation of a government-run plan, but he added that the trigger is a "pretty doggone good idea." But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said "a trigger is an excuse for not doing anything" and added, "I don't even want to talk about a trigger."

Fact or fiction?
Fact. The insurance overhaul vote may come down to a few centrists in each party. A trigger could satisfy those who want government competition for private-sector insurers, but at the same time would defer a final decision.

How to define ‘affordable’?
Snowe's amendment would define affordability in terms of insurance costs as a percentage of income. For instance, for a family of four with an income of $66,150, "affordable" coverage couldn't exceed 13 percent of its income, or about $165 a week.

Industry survival strategy?
Deutsche Bank analyst Scott Fidel suggested in July that a trigger might buy time for the insurance industry in the hope that "the political winds in Washington eventually start to shift back more to the center."

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