Many are extremely frustrated by the slow progress in the Senate Finance Committee, but it looks like one reason for the delay is the serious consideration by the committee for an excise tax on health insurance companies for gold-plated health care plans.

A proposal to tax insurance companies on their most expensive health-care plans may help lawmakers seeking a bipartisan solution for financing President Barack Obama’s $1 trillion health-care plan.

The plan, offered by Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, would impose an excise tax on insurers that could generate tens of billions of dollars. Making the companies pay may help break a deadlock in Congress over funding. Obama opposes taxing health benefits for middle-class Americans and many Republicans and Democrats have said they won’t accept a plan to tax the policies of the wealthiest.

“We’re taking an intense look at it,” Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, said in an interview yesterday on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt.”

The measure would help end “perverse incentives to over- utilize and have high-cost care,” said Grassley. “We’re interested in it as a discipline within health care.”

Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, another Republican on the Finance Committee that is drafting health-care legislation, said she was also open to the proposal.

‘Practical Option’

“That may be a practical option, as a way of attacking future costs in health care and driving them down and creating disincentives for the most expensive policies,” Snowe said July 23. Earlier this week, Senator Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat on the Finance Committee, said the idea is under consideration by the panel.

The Kerry proposal is similar to an amendment that Senators Bill Bradley, a Democrat, and John Danforth, a Republican, floated in the 1994 effort to overhaul health care. Obama has said he wants his plan to remake health care, which accounts for 17 percent of the economy, to have bipartisan support.

“It might be a way of accomplishing our goals,” Kerry said.

Grassley agreed. The proposal, he said, has “been a subject of discussion for two days of the last four or five” in the committee.

This is an excellent option given that any proposal to limit the health care deduction for individuals who have gold-plated plans went nowhere for political reasons. The delay must relate to the various ways this can be structured and the need to have it scored properly by the Congressional Budget Office. If the numbers work, this will go a long way towards getting a bill that can achieve broad support and even bring along some Republicans.