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Senate health bill costs pegged at $829 billion

2009-10-07 1
   
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résuméWASHINGTON A U.S. Senate Finance Committee health plan would cost $829 billion and cut the budget deficit by $81 billion over 10 years, nonpartisan budget analysts said on Wednesday in a report that could bolster President Barack Obama's healthcare r
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Senate health bill costs pegged at $829 billion


WASHINGTON A U.S. Senate Finance Committee health plan would cost $829 billion and cut the budget deficit by $81 billion over 10 years, nonpartisan budget analysts said on Wednesday in a report that could bolster President Barack Obama's healthcare reform drive.

The preliminary estimate from the Congressional Budget Office also said the bill would reduce the number of uninsured people in the United States by about 29 million by 2019.

The bill would meet Obama's push for a healthcare plan that does not increase the budget deficit, according to the CBO. The estimate could ease the way for committee approval of the measure in the next week.

"This is another important step forward for health reform," White House spokesman Reid Cherlin said.

Republicans, saying they were concerned about the bill's costs and potential impact on the budget deficit, had demanded the estimate before they cast a vote on the proposal to transform the $2.5 trillion healthcare system.

The bill, one of five pending in Congress on Obama's top domestic priority, would require individuals to have health insurance and would offer subsidies to some people to help pay for it.

Insurers would face stiff new regulations -- including a prohibition on rejecting coverage for people due to pre-existing medical conditions -- and the bill would impose a tax on higher-cost insurance plans.

PUBLIC OPTION

The Finance Committee bill does not include a new government-run insurance program -- often called the "public option" -- backed by Obama and liberals as a way to inject competition in the insurance market.

It substitutes a nonprofit cooperative as an alternative, but the CBO report was dubious about its merits. The CBO said cooperatives were unlikely to attract much enrollment or spend all the subsidies allocated to it.

"They seem unlikely to establish a significant market presence in many areas of the country or to noticeably affect federal subsidy payments," the report said.

All three healthcare bills passed by House of Representatives committees include a public option, as does the Senate health committee plan approved earlier this year.

The CBO said the bill probably would result in continued reductions in federal budget deficits in the years after 2019.

When it was originally unveiled on September 16, the CBO estimated the plan would cost $774 billion, shave $49 billion from the deficit over 10 years and add about 29 million people to the insurance rolls.

Dozens of amendments were added to the measure during seven days of committee debate, but the number of people who would be insured under the bill did not change and the reduction in the budget deficit actually increased.

Committee Chairman Max Baucus said the forecast showed the bill was "a smart investment" that would expand coverage and improve healthcare for millions of American families.

"Our balanced approach to health reform has paid off yet again," he said on the Senate floor.

If the Democratic-controlled Finance Committee approves the measure as expected, it would be merged with a Senate health committee version and sent to the full Senate for debate in the next few weeks.

Republicans said the merged bill would be dramatically different than the Senate Finance Committee proposal.

"The real bill will be written by Democrat leaders in a closed-to-the-public conference room somewhere in the Capitol. The real bill will be another 1,000-page, trillion-dollar experiment," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said.

The healthcare revamp has been bogged down in Congress amid a raging debate over its size, cost and scope.

Democrats in the House met on Wednesday to consider the outlines of a healthcare bill in that chamber, where party leaders have been working to meld three House bills into one that could garner the 218 votes needed for passage.

"Nobody has 218 votes right now," Democrat Anthony Weiner said of the healthcare talks, which focused on Wednesday on the government-run insurance program.

(Editing by Will Dunham)

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