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House health care bill will spend $1 trillion in a decade, officials say

WASHINGTON — Health care legislation taking shape in the House carries a price tag of at least $1 trillion over a decade, significantly higher than the target President Barack Obama has set, congressional officials said Friday as they struggled to finish work on the measure for a vote early next month.

Democrats tout an unreleased Congressional Budget Office estimate of $871 billion in recent days, a total that numerous officials acknowledge understates the bill's true cost by $150 billion or more. That figure excludes several items designed to improve benefits for Medicare and Medicaid recipients and providers, as well as public health programs and more, they say.

The officials who disclosed the details to the Associated Press did so on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss them publicly.

Some moderate Democrats have expressed reluctance to support a bill as high as $1 trillion. Last month, Obama said in a nationally televised address before a joint session of Congress that he preferred a package with a price tag of around $900 billion.

Obama also said he would not sign a bill that raised deficits, and the CBO estimates the emerging House bill meets that objective. Officials said the measure would reduce deficits by at least $50 billion over 10 years and perhaps as much as $120 billion.

Democrats also said the bill would slow the rate of growth of the giant Medicare program from 6.6 percent annually to 5.3 percent.

"The bill will be paid for over 10 years. It will reduce costs but also will not add a dime to the deficit" in future years, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at a news conference.

House Democrats took steps to fulfill another of Obama's goals on Friday, announcing their legislation would completely close a gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage within a decade, five years faster than originally contemplated.

House health care bill will spend $1 trillion in a decade, officials say 10/23/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 23, 2009 10:37pm]
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