HELP Bill to Include Government Insurance Option, Cost $611 Billion

Posted July 2, 2009 at 10:31am

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) announced Thursday morning that the health care bill being drafted by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee would cost approximately $611 billion over 10 years and would include a robust government-run insurance option.

The latest price tag is according to the Congressional Budget Office, which recently scored the HELP plan.

Dodd said the proposal has the support of all 13 HELP Democrats and said it accomplishes the health care reform goals of President Barack Obama. The government-run insurance option, sure to be rejected by Senate Republicans, would be financed in part by charging employers with 25 workers or more $750 annually for each employee for which they do not provide health coverage.

“We believe this will help bring down costs as a result of being in competition with private plans,— Dodd, the No. 2 HELP Democrat, said during a conference call with reporters. Dodd was joined on the call by fellow Democratic panel members Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.).

Dodd suggested that the bill’s new CBO score will smooth the way for an easy merger with separate legislation being negotiated in the Senate Finance Committee, although it remains to be seen how the two panels will reconcile the government-run insurance issue. Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is hoping for a bipartisan bill, a difficult lift given liberal Democratic support for and GOP opposition to the public option.

Last week, Baucus announced that the Finance bill — whatever it looks like in the end — would come in deficit-neutral and under $1 trillion over 10 years. Dodd is hopeful because the projected costs of the two bills appear to be in line.

“We believe with the news today that we have the ability with the Finance Committee to fashion a bill together,— Dodd said Thursday.

HELP Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has been away from the Senate as he battles brain cancer. Dodd has stepped into the lead role on the panel in Kennedy’s absence.