Sen. Baucus Unveils Health Care Plan
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
The wait is finally over. That is if you closely follow the ins and outs of the many legislative proposals for fixing health care. Today's release of the bill from the Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, the Democrat of Montana, has been anticipated for months because it's viewed as the last best option for a bipartisan plan except, as NPR's Julie Rovner reports, this big health care premiere is not getting uniformly positive reviews.
JULIE ROVNER: Undaunted by the complaints about his bill, leveled by both Republicans and Democrats in recent days, Baucus went before the cameras this afternoon to proclaim the bill he'll formally put before his committee next week, achieves the elusive goal he's been seeking all these months.
Senator MAX BAUCUS (Democrat, Montana; Chairman, Senate Finance Committee): It represents an effort to reach common ground and a real chance for health care reform. And it is balanced, a common sense bill that can pass the Senate.
ROVNER: At an official score released this afternoon by the Congressional Budget Office of $774 billion over the next 10 years, the bill costs substantially less than any of the other measures reported by competing House and Senate committees. Baucus made many other concessions in an effort to win at least some Republican votes. He dropped the idea of having a government-run public option to compete with private health insurers. And though, as of today, not a single Republican has said he or she would back the measure, Baucus continued to express his trademark optimism.
Sen. BAUCUS: I worked very hard to try to - to get that bipartisan support and I think that we will get it. That is, I think that certainly by the time the Finance Committee in this room votes on final passage for health care reform, there will be Republican support.
ROVNER: But at least so far, things aren't looking so rosy. Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, who left the negotiations early on, said he doubts the bill will ever win any GOP backing.
Senator ORRIN HATCH (Republican, Utah): And it just shows that what President Obama has been saying, it can be looked at. First of all, they are going to increase cost to people and they're going to do it in (unintelligible) ways, they're going to increase taxes. I mean - and they're going to diminish services. So these are things that just are inevitable with what they're suggesting.
ROVNER: Meanwhile, in making the bill less expensive, it's also gotten less expansive, meaning it provides less financial help for people who would be legally required to buy health insurance. That's got a lot of Democrats, like West Virginia's Jay Rockefeller, worried. For example, says Rockefeller, for low-income workers whose employers do offer coverage…
Senator JAY ROCKEFELLER (Democrat, West Virginia): There's a mandate that they have to accept - the insurance. But because the insurance is high, they can't afford to accept it because then they can't take care of their children.
ROVNER: Still, many Democrats and even some Republicans said they were willing to take what Baucus is offering as a starting point. They noted that Finance Committee members will have a chance to offer changes to the bill next week and the full membership of this Senate after that. In fact, someone asked New Mexico Democrat Jeff Bingaman, one of the six senators who's been negotiating the package all summer, what to make of the fact that he and his fellow negotiators plan to offer changes to what's arguably their own bill.
Senator JEFF BINGAMAN (Democrat, New Mexico): I think you should take from the fact that this is a very complicated - large comprehensive bill. And it would be weird if we didn't have particular things we wanted to see improved.
ROVNER: And even Democrats who are complaining about the bill now, like Jay Rockefeller, say they remain optimistic about overall chances for getting a bill through the Senate and House and to the President's desk.
Sen. ROCKEFELLER: Because who wants to be part of not doing something that's important for the American people called health care reform. So, people could shout and scream and yell, but when it comes right down to it, they're really voting yes or no on the American people.
ROVNER: And the American people could lose even more if Congress fails to act at all. A new study out yesterday showed the cost of the average employer health plan now tops $13,000 a year for a family coverage.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
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