By Erica Werner and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Associated Press Writers
WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Max Baucus on Wednesday brought out the much-awaited Finance Committee version of an American health-system remake — a landmark $856 billion, 10-year measure that starts a rough ride through Congress without visible Republican backing.
The bill by Baucus, chairman of the Finance Committee, would make major changes to the nation's $2.5 trillion health care system, including requiring all individuals to purchase health care or pay a fine, and language prohibiting insurance company practices like charging more to people with more serious health problems.
"This is a unique moment in history where we can finally reach an objective so many of us have sought for so long," Baucus said. "The Finance Committee has carefully worked through the details of health care reform to ensure this package works for patients, for health care providers and for our economy."
Consumers would be able to shop for and compare insurance plans in a new purchasing exchange. Medicaid would be expanded, and caps would be placed on patients' yearly health care costs. The plan would be paid for with $507 billion in cuts to government health programs and $349 billion in new taxes and fees, including a tax on high-end insurance plans and fees on insurance companies and medical device manufacturers.
The bill fails to fulfill President Barack Obama's aim of creating a new government-run insurance plan — or option — to compete with the private market. It proposes instead a system of nonprofit member-owned cooperatives, somewhat akin to electric co-ops that exist in many places around the country. That was one of many concessions meant to win over Republicans.
In other ways though, including its overall cost and payment mechanisms, the bill tracks closely with the priorities Obama laid out in his speech to Congress last week.
Baucus is still holding out hope for GOP support when his committee actually votes on the bill, probably as early as next week.
The measure represents the most moderate health care proposal in Congress so far, compared to legislation approved by three committees in the House and the Senate's health panel. Obama's top domestic priority is to revamp the health care system to provide coverage to nearly 50 million Americans who lack it and to rein in rising costs.