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CBO: Senate health bill may cost $829B over 10 years, would lower defecit

WASHINGTON — Health care legislation being drafted by the Senate Finance Committee would provide coverage for 94 percent of all eligible Americans at a cost of $829 billion over the next decade, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday.

It would also reduce the federal deficit by $81 billion over the next 10 years, the CBO estimated.

With the report from the CBO, the measure crafted by the finance committee has emerged as the only one of five bills drafted by various committees that achieves every important goal President BarackObama has set for his top domestic initiative.

White House budget director Peter Orszag applauded the analysis, saying the measure "demonstrates that we can expand coverage and improve quality while being fiscally responsible," and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called it "another important step down the road toward enacting comprehensive health insurance reform." But senior Republicans seemed only to harden in their opposition to the measure.

The Finance Committee could vote as early as Friday on the bill. Passage by the Democrat-dominated panel is virtually assured, but Democrats are eager to win the vote of Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, the only Republican on the committee who has expressed any support for the measure.

Snowe said Wednesday that she was relieved to see that the cost of expanding coverage remained below Obama's limit of $900 billion over the next decade. "But we have a lot to review," she said.

She urged committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., to wait until next week for a final vote. "It's a critical vote. . . . I would rather have the comfort level of having had sufficient time to analyze it."

Other Republicans pored over the CBO's 27-page report in a late-afternoon huddle, then emerged with the warning that the Finance measure would impose a stiff price on those already with health insurance. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, said he was worried that insurers and other health care companies would pass the cost of new fees and taxes on to consumers. And he said the bill's expansion of Medicaid would leave a new set of "unfunded mandates" for states already struggling with record budget deficits. "There's a lot of things in there to be concerned about," Grassley said.

Reid hopes to combine the committee's bill with a competing measure, approved by the Senate health committee, and present the result to the full Senate later this month. He will begin next week to convene small meetings in his office with Baucus, Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and senior White House officials, including Orszag, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and senior health adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the legislation is likely to become more problematic as Reid works to add provisions aimed at winning the 60 votes needed to avert a GOP filibuster. "The real bill will be another 1,000-page, trillion-dollar experiment," McConnell said in a statement.

According to the CBO, Congress' official arbiter of the cost of legislation, the Finance measure would expand coverage to an additional 29 million Americans by 2019 through dramatically expanding Medicaid coverage for the poor and by subsidizing private insurance for low- and middle-income Americans.

The $829 billion price tag would be more than offset by reducing spending on Medicare and other federal health programs by about $400 billion over the next decade, and by imposing a series of fees on insurance companies, drugmakers, medical device manufacturers and other sectors of the health industry that stand to gain millions of new customers under the legislation.

In addition, the package would raise another $200 billion by levying a 40 percent excise tax on high-cost insurance policies — the so-called "Cadillac" plans that cost more than $8,000 for individuals or $21,000 for a family.

All told, the package would reduce federal budget deficits by $81 billion over the next decade, the CBO forecast, adding that the savings are likely to continue to accumulate well into the future.

Information from McClatchy Newspapers and the Associated Press was used in this report.

Support grows for health care reform

An Associated Press-GfK poll conducted Oct. 1-5 found opposition to President Barack Obama's health care reforms has dropped in recent weeks.

Americans are split 40-40 on the health care legislation, the poll found. That's a sharp improvement from September, when 49 percent of Americans said they opposed the congressional proposals and just 34 percent supported them.

In a significant change, opposition among older Americans dropped 16 percentage points, from 59 percent in September to 43 percent now. Retirees have been concerned that Congress would stick them with the bill by cutting Medicare to pay for covering the uninsured.

The poll found that 68 percent of Democrats support the congressional plans, up from 57 percent in early September. Opposition among independents dropped from 51 percent to 36 percent. However, only 29 percent of independents currently support the plans.

Republicans remain solidly against the congressional health care plans, with four out of five opposed.

The poll of 1,003 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Associated Press

CBO: Senate health bill may cost $829B over 10 years, would lower defecit 10/08/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 8, 2009 8:34am]
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