Health Care Bill Will Cover 31 Million Americans Without Medical Insurance

Associated Press
November 20, 2009

WASHINGTON _ A senior Democratic leadership aide says legislation headed to the U.S. Senate floor would extend health care coverage to 31 million uninsured Americans at a cost of $849 billion over a decade.

Citing the Congressional Budget Office, the aide says the bill would cut the U.S. government deficit by $127 billion over that decade.

The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because the information had not been shared with rank-and-file Democrats in the Senate.

An intense struggle is expected when debate begins this week on the Senate floor, where Republicans have vowed to block the legislation atop President Barack Obama's domestic agenda.

Officials have said the legislation would require most Americans to carry health insurance and would mandate large companies to provide coverage to their workers, as well as ban insurance company practices such as denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions.

The United States is the only developed nation that does not have a comprehensive national health care plan for all its citizens. About 50 million of America's 350 million people are without health insurance. The government provides coverage to the elderly, the poor and some military veterans. But most Americans rely on private insurance usually provided by their employers.

The bill would set up new insurance marketplaces _ called exchanges _ primarily for those who now have a hard time getting or keeping coverage. Subsidies would be available to help defray the cost of coverage for people with lower incomes.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced two weeks ago it would also include an option for consumers to purchase government-sold insurance, with states permitted to drop out of the system.

Reid, a Democrat, met in advance of his party's closed-door caucus with Sens. Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln, Democratic moderates who have expressed reservations about the bill. ``He is walking through the particulars with them,'' said Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley.

With the support of two independents, Democrats have 60 seats, the precise number needed to choke off any Republican delaying tactics in the 100-member Senate. None of the 40 Republicans is expected to defect on the first test vote, expected by weekend.

Ahead lie weeks _ if not more _ of unpredictable manoeuvring on the Senate floor, where Reid and his allies will seek to incorporate changes sought by Democrats and repel attempts by Republicans to defeat the legislation and inflict a significant political defeat on the president.

Reid was releasing his legislation more than a week after the House of Representatives approved its version of the health care bill on a near party-line vote of 220-215.

According to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, that House bill, with a price tag of about $1.2 trillion, would result in coverage for tens of millions of uninsured, and provide 96 per cent of the eligible population with insurance.

Reid has said he was seeking a less costly measure, but it was not clear whether he would meet or slightly exceed Obama's target of roughly $900 billion over a decade.

Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Erica Werner contributed to this report.

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