After weeks of delay as he negotiated for Republican support, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus Wednesday unveiled a 10-year, $856 billion plan to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system.
The measure still has no promise of Republican support, even though Baucus dumped the public insurance option favored by most Democrats and agreed to other Republican changes in hopes of producing a bipartisan plan.
Baucus predicted it would ultimately garner Republican votes.
“This is a good bill. This is a balanced bill. It can pass the Senate,” he said.
“It is fiscally responsible,” he added. “It reduces the deficit in 10 years. And it controls healthcare spending in the long run.”
Early reaction was not great. HuffingtonPost.com headlined it “Baucus Bill Bust” because of the lack of Republican support. Consumer Watchdog charged it would force middle class families to pay 20 percent of their incomes on healthcare.
Julius Hobson, a policy adviser at the Bryan Cave law firm, noted it “not only lacks Republican support but it is not clear if it even has ‘full’ Democratic support.”
But the Blue Dog coalition — an important grouping of fiscally conservative congressional Democrats — praised the measure as “an important step forward” because it would not add to the federal deficit and would take steps to reduce long-term healthcare costs.
“Meeting these standards, also set forth by the president, is critical to reining in deficits and protecting our economy for future generations of Americans,” Representative Stephanie Herseth said in a statement on behalf of the Blue Dogs.
The Baucus plan would require all U.S. citizens and legal residents to have health insurance.
Subsidies would be provided on a sliding scale to help low-income people purchase insurance. Some 46 million people in the United States have no health insurance coverage.
Under the program envisioned by President Barack Obama, people who do not have insurance through their employers could purchase a plan through an insurance exchange.
The insurance exchange would include plans by private insurers as well as a public insurance option. Obama argues a public plan is needed to provide effective competition to drive down costs. Opponents fear it would drive private insurers out of the market.
The public insurance option has been strongly opposed by Republicans. Hoping to circumvent opposition, the Baucus plan proposes the creation of non-profit cooperatives to offer insurance in competition with private insurers.
In a speech to Congress recently, Obama said he favored a public option. But he urged liberal Democrats to be open to other ideas, like cooperatives, that could achieve the same goal of improving competition.
A pdf of the plan, the “America’s Healthy Future Act of 2009″ is available here.
What do you think?
Does it have broader appeal than the Democratic measures already introduced in the House and Senate? Or does it still contain elements that will generate wide opposition?