Obama: Keep Senate Health Talks In High Gear Members of the Senate Finance Committee briefed the president Thursday on their efforts to craft an insurance bill that would cover most Americans and pare down the projected price tag. The committee is expected to continue negotiations over the August break.
NPR logo Obama: Keep Senate Health Talks In High Gear

Obama: Keep Senate Health Talks In High Gear

President Obama on Thursday encouraged senators not to give up on the health insurance overhaul during a lengthy meeting with bipartisan members of the Senate Finance Committee.

Three Democrats and three Republicans briefed Obama on efforts to craft a bill that would cover most Americans and pare down the price tag, a projected $1 trillion over 10 years.

"The president's message to them is to continue to work and find consensus on an issue that we know they've been working hard on and is very important to the American people," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters at an afternoon briefing.

Gibbs said it's unclear how close the senators are to reaching an agreement. He said the gathering was merely a briefing, not a negotiating session.

Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) hasn't released details of the proposed legislation, but The Washington Post reported Thursday that it cuts $100 billion off the cost and drops the government-run insurance option pushed by Obama.

The bill also would cover 94 percent of Americans, and would tax the health care plans with the most generous coverage, the newspaper said.

Baucus and fellow Democrats Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Kent Conrad of North Dakota were expected to continue negotiations with Republicans during the Senate's August break, according to the Post.

Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Olympia Snowe of Maine are negotiating for the GOP.

Baucus had set a Sept. 15 deadline for resolving issues and moving forward with a bill, but it was unclear Thursday whether that will be possible.

Obama has said he wants to sign a bill by the end of the year, and has linked the overhaul to the nation's overall economic health.

On Wednesday, he announced that billions in grants would go toward making the United States a leader in the production of electric vehicles and batteries. But he said cost-cutting measures in the health overhaul are necessary for growth.

"Of course, in order to lead in the global economy and ensure that our businesses can grow and innovate, we also have to pass health insurance reform that brings down costs," he told the crowd at a factory in Wakarusa, Ind.

He promised the workers at Navistar International Corp. that the health insurance overhaul would be passed by the end of the year.

So far, three House committees and the Senate health committee have approved bills — all without Republican support.

Obama has been on the road in recent weeks, pushing a plan that would cover all Americans and prevent insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions or serious illness.

He has also stressed that parts of the plan would be good for Americans' health as well as their pocketbooks. Under the overhauled system, insurance companies would have to pay the full costs of routine tests that help prevent illness, such as mammograms. There would also be annual and lifetime caps on what consumers have to pay for deductibles, copays and other out-of-pocket expenses, he has said.

Republicans and Democrats have expressed worries about how the plan would be financed.