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House unveils health bill, minus key details

WASHINGTON — House Democrats on Friday answered President Barack Obama's call for an overhaul of the health care system, unveiling a bill that they said would cover 95 percent of Americans.

But they said they did not know how much it would cost and had not decided how to pay for it.

The proposal would establish a new public health insurance plan to compete with private plans. The draft bill would require all Americans to carry health insurance. Most employers would have to provide coverage to employees or pay a fee equivalent to 8 percent of their payroll. The plan would also end many insurance company practices that deny coverage or charge higher premiums to sick people.

"Health insurance for most American families is just one big surprise," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the Education and Labor Committee. "You spend hours on the phone with exclusions and discussions and referrals to other legal documents that you didn't have at the time you purchased it."

The 852-page House bill, as expected, is more expansive than the legislation taking shape in the Senate, where work on the issue bogged down this week after early cost estimates came in far higher than expected. The initial price tag for a measure drafted by the Senate Finance Committee, for example, was $1.6 trillion over 10 years.

Similar sticker shock could hit House members when they see the cost of their bill, which incorporates many ideas from health policy experts.

The draft bill was unveiled by three committee chairmen — Miller; Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee; and Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

The proposal would expand Medicaid eligibility, increase Medicaid payments to primary care doctors and gradually close a gap in Medicare coverage of prescription drugs known as a doughnut hole. The bill would also reverse deep cuts in Medicare payments to doctors in the next five years.

Republicans, who had no role in developing the bill, denounced it as a blueprint for a vast increase in federal power and spending.

"Families and small businesses who are already footing the bill for Washington's reckless spending binge will not support it," said House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio.

House unveils health bill, minus key details 06/20/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 20, 2009 12:18am]

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