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Kennedy, HELP Democrats Unveil Health Care Reform Bill

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), along with the panel’s Democrats, unveiled the full text of his health care reform bill Tuesday and announced plans to begin a markup of the measure next week.

Discussions are still ongoing on the HELP bill, which will merge with legislation being written simultaneously by the Senate Finance Committee. The full Senate is hoping to pass a health care package before it adjourns for the August recess.

“Over the next few days, we will continue working with our Republican colleagues on common sense solutions that reduce skyrocketing health care costs, assure quality care for all and provide affordable health insurance choices,— Kennedy said in a statement.

“Much work remains, and the coming days and weeks won’t be easy. But we have a unique opportunity to give the American people, at long last, the health care they need and deserve,— Kennedy said.

Kennedy is battling brain cancer and has spent much of the last year away from the Senate receiving treatment. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Kennedy’s closest Senate colleague and the next in line on HELP, has stepped in to help push Kennedy’s health care package along.

“Today, we will introduce legislation that will strengthen what works and fix what doesn’t,— Dodd said in a statement. “If you like the insurance you have today, you can keep it. If you don’t like what you have today, we’ll give you better choices, including a public option for health care.—

Highlights of the bill include giving consumers options when picking a health care plan, focusing on prevention and the use of information technology, and making it easier for elderly and disabled persons to live at home and function independently.

Democrats and Republicans on the committee still have to sort out their differences on major portions of the bill, including the public option and employer mandates. They are scheduled to keep meeting Wednesday and Thursday to address outstanding issues. The markup process is slated to kick off June 16.

News of the Kennedy bill came just hours after House Democratic chairmen unveiled a four-page outline of their sweeping health care reform proposal. Both plans include a public insurance option opposed by many conservative Democrats.

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