Friday, June 26, 2009

U.S. senators closer to $1 trillion healthcare bill

U.S. senators closer to $1 trillion healthcare billBy Donna Smith
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. senators on Thursday moved closer to agreement on a $1 trillion U.S. healthcare overhaul that would extend medical coverage to nearly everyone and without adding to huge budget deficits.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and other panel members said that reducing the cost was a significant step toward getting a final package that could gain at least some Republican support.
Baucus said panel members have narrowed talks to options that bring the price tag to about $1 trillion over 10 years, down from an earlier estimate of $1.6 trillion.
"We have options that would enable us to write a $1 trillion bill, fully paid for," Baucus told reporters after a closed-door meeting with panel members.
"We`re getting a lot closer to an agreement," Baucus said.
Later the group of Senate Finance Republican and Democratic negotiators issued a statement affirming their commitment to reach bipartisan agreement on a bill "that will lower costs and ensure quality, affordable care for every American."
But cracks have emerged in the diverse coalition pushing for an overhaul of a healthcare system that chews up 16 percent of the gross domestic product annually but trails many developed countries on measures like infant mortality and longevity.
Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, a major player in the negotiations, said it was too early to say how many Republicans would back the overhaul.
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, also a key negotiator, has strongly opposed Democratic demands that a new government plan be created to compete with private insurance companies to cover the uninsured.
Insurers and doctors share Republican concerns that a public insurance program would drive insurance companies out of business.
"I`m certainly keeping an open mind but I am not very enthusiastic about anything that smacks of a government plan," Hatch told reporters.
President Barack Obama has made a healthcare plan that reins in costs and covers most of the 47 million uninsured Americans one of his top legislative priorities. He has turned up the pressure on Congress to pass healthcare reform this year and has indicated a willingness to compromise.
Democratic Senator Kent Conrad said lawmakers would pick through the menu of options to develop a package that can earn enough votes to pass the committee and the Senate.
"Very substantial progress has been made over the last 24 hours," Conrad told reporters.  Continued...
Original article

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