Healthcare legislation taking shape in the House carries a price tag of at least $1 trillion over a decade, significantly higher than the target President Barack Obama has set, congressional officials said late Friday as they struggled to finish work on the measure for a vote early next month.
House reform legislation price tag tops $1 trillion
Democrats have touted an unreleased Congressional Budget Office estimate of $871 billion in recent days, a total that numerous officials acknowledge understates the bill's true cost by $150 billion or more. That figure excludes several items designed to improve benefits for Medicare and Medicaid recipients and providers, as well as public health programs and more, they added.
The officials who disclosed the details did so on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss them publicly.
Some moderate Democrats have expressed reluctance to support a bill as high as $1 trillion. Last month, Obama said in a nationally televised address before a joint session of Congress that he preferred a package with a price tag of around $900 billion.
Obama also said he would not sign a bill that raised deficits, and the CBO estimates the emerging House bill meets that objective. Officials said the measure would reduce deficits by at least $50 billion over 10 years and perhaps as much as $120 billion.
Democrats also said the bill would slow the rate of growth of the giant Medicare program from 6.6% annually to 5.3%.
"The bill will be paid for over 10 years. It will reduce costs but also will not add a dime to the deficit" in future years, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said at a news conference.
Still, Obama's speech provoked enough concern among House Democrats that senior presidential aides were called to a meeting in the Capitol to explain precisely what the president had in mind when he set the $900 billion target.
The figure of $871 billion "is a coverage number. I think the White House has made that very clear. It is a number about coverage," Pelosi said recently when asked about the size of the measure.
Linda Douglass, a spokeswoman for the White House, said, "The speaker is working on a plan that meets with the president's price tag of around $900 billion for health insurance reform and will not add a dime to the deficit."
House Democrats took steps to fulfill another of Obama's goals during the day, announcing their legislation would completely close a gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage within a decade, five years faster than originally contemplated.
In addition, Pelosi said, "as of Jan. 1, 2010, our legislation will give a 50% discount for brand-name drugs to recipients in the donut hole and it will reduce the size of the donut hole by $500."
After months of delay, Democrats in the House and Senate are aiming for votes next month on legislation to fulfill Obama's goal of expanding coverage to millions who lack it, banning insurance industry practices such as denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and slowing the growth in health care spending nationally. The House bill will also lift the insurance industry's exemption from federal anti-trust laws, a provision under consideration in Senate negotiations as well.
With time growing short, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are struggling independently with the most controversial of all issues involved with healthcare, proposals for a government-run insurance option to compete with private industry.
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