Democrats Unveil Health Care Measure

House Democrats unveiled a health care measure Tuesday with provisions for a government-sponsored plan. The measure would require most people to have insurance and for most employers to pay for it. It was missing a key ingredient, however: how it would be financed.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

On Capitol Hill, the pace of efforts to overhaul the nation's health care system is quickening. One day after President Obama tried to kick start the plan, a senate committee is about to complete a bill. On the House side, leaders today unveiled a measure that they hope to bring to a floor vote by the end of the month.

NPR's Julie Rovner joins us now from the Capitol. Hi, Julie.

JULIE ROVNER: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: Now, you've just come from this big bill unveiling on the house side. I thought you and I had this conversation about the big unveiling a few weeks ago.

ROVNER: Well, we did but that bill was missing a key ingredient, which is how it would be paid for. That's been a big requirement laid down by President Obama, that no health overhaul bill be allowed to add money to the federal deficit. So, we already knew the bill would have a government sponsored plan to compete with private insurance and that it would require most people to have insurance, and most employers to pay for it. But we've been waiting all this time to see just who'd pay the price for those trillion-dollar start-up costs.

SIEGEL: One proposal we've heard in recent weeks is that the government should tax employer contributions to people's health insurance benefits and raise money that way.

ROVNER: And the House was never really considering that seriously, so that's definitely not going to happen in this bill. The major tax change they've decided to go with instead is a surtax on the top 1.2 percent of Americans - that's families with incomes higher than $350,000 a year, individuals with incomes over $280,000. They'd pay an additional one to one-and-a-half percent of their incomes or roughly between $500 and $1,500 a year.

SIEGEL: Which I gather is still not enough to pay for the whole plan, so where will the rest of the money come from?

ROVNER: No, the rest of the money would come from reductions within the health care system, things that have been talked about for weeks, cuts to hospitals mostly, although one notable cut that won't sit very well with the drug industry would take back part of the windfall that the drug makers got in the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill. They'd basically take back about $50 billion and redistribute it to seniors on Medicare in the form of lower drug prices.

SIEGEL: What happens next with the House bill?

ROVNER: Well there's three committees that have to act on it. That committee action's set to begin on Thursday. They have to wait 48 hours. Republicans say they're going to try to slow things down but there's still plenty of time, if the House really wants to, to get this through committee and onto the floor before the end of July, and that's when the House leaves for its summer recess. At least, that's the plan.

SIEGEL: Okay, thank you Julie.

ROVNER: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Julie Rovner who covers health policy for us.

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