House Health Bill Looks to Insure 97 Percent of Americans

Posted July 14, 2009 at 3:27pm

House Democrats released their health care overhaul Tuesday afternoon, promising to insure 97 percent of Americans within a decade by raising taxes on the rich and cutting costs.Democrats said they are still waiting on the Congressional Budget Office to provide a cost estimate for the bill, but it is expected to exceed $1 trillion. The tax increase on the wealthy will raise more than $544 billion, and savings in Medicare are expected to top $500 billion, with insurance companies, hospitals, drug companies and other providers being asked to help pay for health care for the uninsured and to close the “doughnut hole— for seniors.The proposal, which is expected to be marked up in House committees Thursday, includes additional protections for small businesses — exempting more from a new mandate for providing coverage.The measure also still contains a government-run health insurance option. That plan has come under fire from fiscally conservative Blue Dogs and New Democrats, who oppose tying such a plan to Medicare payment rates, in part because of regional disparities. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said they are trying to find common ground.“We all have to come together, compromise and work out our differences,— he said.Blue Dogs said they will try and squeeze additional cost cutting through amendments to the bill in the markup.Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), leader of the Blue Dogs’ health task force, said they would continue to push for cutting costs.“Reform that does not meet the President’s goal of substantially bringing down costs is not an option,— Ross said in a statement.Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) backed the effort to find more cuts.“We want to squeeze every dollar we can out of the system,— she said.Under the Democrats’ blueprint, a new tax would hit the richest 1.2 percent of Americans, with families paying a 1 percent surcharge on income above $350,000, 1.5 percent on income above $500,000 and 5.4 percent on income above $1 million.The new top federal income tax rate would hit 45 percent.The tax increase from $350,000 to $1 million would double if expected savings do not materialize.Other new taxes would target people who can afford health insurance but choose not to buy it and on businesses that do not provide health insurance to their employees.