House Bill Would Make Health Care A Right

The on-again, off-again progress on a bill to overhaul the nation's health care system is on again. The first of five Congressional committees completed work on a bill Tuesday. Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders unveiled the first measure that includes a full financing mechanism.

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Some kind of change to the nation's health care system has moved a little closer in Congress. A Senate committee this morning became the first to approve a health overhaul bill, albeit along party lines. Still, much lobbying remains over multi-billion-dollar details. In a moment, we'll ask a leading insurance company executive about possible competition from the government.

We begin with NPR's Julie Rovner, who reports on small, but measurable movements in both the House and the Senate.

JULIE ROVNER: If you want proof that writing legislation to remake the nation's health care system is more like a marathon than a sprint, look no further than the Senate Health Education and Labor Committee. Occasionally, the debate got pretty spirited, but much of it sounded a lot like this, from acting Chairman Christopher Dodd of Connecticut.

Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democrat, Connecticut; Acting Chairman, Senate Health Education and Labor Committee): I had an amendment I wanted to offer if I could, and I'm going to place a time limit on myself of 10 minutes.

ROVNER: And so it went, day and night, over 12 days, spanning nearly a month. What's finally emerging, however, is the first bill completed by any of the five House and Senate committees working on the health overhaul effort. Still, Republicans like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska complained that the process isn't giving lawmakers enough time to examine bills that could remake one-sixth of the nation's economy.

Senator LISA MURKOWSKI (Republican, Alaska): Moving too fast doesn't give us policies that this country needs.

ROVNER: Moving too fast isn't a problem for the Finance Committee, the other Senate panel working on a health bill. It's still hoping to come up with a bipartisan plan, but so far there's no sign of a deal. Meanwhile, over on the House side of the Capitol, Democratic leaders unveiled the first bill that combines all of President Obama's goals for a health overhaul. It would boost coverage, cut health care cost and pay the estimated 10-year price tag of just over a trillion dollars so it doesn't add to the federal deficit. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pronounced the bill a major step forward, particularly for America's middle class.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): You cannot be denied care from a preexisting condition. If you change jobs, lose your jobs or start a new business, you still have health care.

ROVNER: The bill proposes to reduce spending within the health system along with a new tax on the wealthiest 1.2 percent of Americans, individuals earning more than $280,000 a year and families earning more than $350,000. But that tax faces serious opposition from Republicans like Michigan's Dave Camp. He told Fox News it would take jobs away from small business.

Senator DAVE CAMP (Republican, Michigan): If we're ever going to recover, if we're ever going to get out of this recession, we're going to have to do it because small business and manufacturing comes back. This surtax would actually kill any recovery that we might have.

ROVNER: The first of three House committees starts formal consideration of the bill later today.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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