WASHINGTON – Senior House Democrats on Friday introduced their plan for reshaping the nation’s health care system, calling for a new government insurance option program, a new mandate on employers to provide coverage and a new guarantee of subsidized health care for the poor.
The draft – the fullest presentation so far of congressional liberals’ vision for overhauling medical care – offered few indications of how such a plan would be financed. The full cost is expected to top $1 trillion.
The bill’s authors said they would detail their plan to cover the costs in coming weeks.
“We’re going to pay for this bill,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif.
Options under consideration include cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, as well as new taxes – including the possibility of taxing some employees for job-based insurance.
The blueprint drew swift praise from President Barack Obama. “This proposal would improve the affordability, availability and quality of health care and represents a major step toward … our goal of fixing what is broken about health care while building on what works,” he said in a statement.
But representatives of the insurance industry immediately attacked the proposal to offer a government medical plan that consumers could choose as an alternative to private coverage.
On the other side of the Capitol, some senior Senate Democrats had begun backing away from the so-called “government option,” seeing it as an obstacle in terms of both cost and building bipartisan support. When Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., recently introduced their version of health care reform, they did not include the government option provision.
Under the House bill unveiled Friday, a new insurance program operated by the government would offer consumers a benefit package including preventive health services, mental health services, dental and vision care for children and annual caps on the amount of money that people would have to pay.
“Choice is the key,” Waxman said. “Choice is the key for consumers to pick which plan they want, whether it’s a private insurance plan or a public insurance plan.”
The bill envisions that Americans earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level – or $88,000 for a family of four – could qualify for credits to help them buy insurance. It would also provide new federal dollars to open up the Medicaid program to Americans earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level and raise reimbursement levels for doctors and hospitals participating in the program. Currently, Medicaid, which is administered by state governments, is often limited to poor families and in some states pays providers so little that many refuse to give care.
Nearly all Americans would be required to get insurance.