WASHINGTON BUREAU — The White House is expressing a willingness to consider a Senate proposal that could impose a tax on high-end health insurance plans as a means of helping to pay for health system reform.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said Tuesday that the Senate Finance Committee is looking into the possibility of taxing insurers and employers that provide “Cadillac plans” that are valued at more than $25,000 a year.

Conrad said there could be regional variations on the cap.

In response, President Obama said he may be open to such a tax.

“I haven’t seen the details of this yet, but it may be an approach that doesn’t put additional burdens on middle-class families,” Obama said on a news show.

The president would not support a total exclusion of such plans, as proposed during the 2008 presidential campaign by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday during a press briefing.

President Obama said during several appearances Tuesday that any health insurance reform program must include a mandate for insurers to cover pre-existing conditions–something the industry has already agreed to do.

Regarding insurers, Gibbs said the president will continually say during the next several weeks that “basic insurance reforms” must be included in health care reform legislation.

“And that is, again, first and foremost, no longer allowing an insurance company to simply deny coverage for a preexisting condition or denying coverage for somebody that — I mean, you’ve got a natural selection problem, right?” Gibbs said.

“I mean, is it any – it’s no wonder — if you’re an insurance company and you cherry-pick all the healthy young people, right, and don’t open up that pool to a greater risk association and a greater risk sharing, you’re simply exacerbating the problem rather than helping it, and I think that’s ultimately part of reform,” Gibbs said.

Also during the daily press briefing, Gibbs said he does not expect Congress to get health system bills through each chamber of Congress before the August recess:

The Obama administration does want the House to pass a bill before it leaves for its recess, Gibbs said.

When asked during the briefing whether the president would be disappointed if the House went home for the August recess without passing a health reform, bill, Gibbs said, “Well, it would be a pretty big disappointment to the American people.”

“I think the president is intent on ensuring that when Congress is done in 2009, that he signs a comprehensive health care reform that cuts costs for small businesses and families, provides an opportunity for affordable, accessible health insurance, and has put — has done something to bend the cost curve and help our fiscal — put our fiscal house in order,” Gibbs said.

But Obama feels “encouraged” about the “amount of progress that we’ve made, that we’re closer to health care reform than we’ve been in 40 or 50 years,” Gibbs said.