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House Democrats Release 852-Page Health Care Draft

House Democratic chairmen on Friday released an 852-page health care draft that they said would ensure 95 percent of Americans are covered by insurance, although some details, including the cost, are still to be determined.

The bill includes a Medicare-like public health insurance option that would compete with private plans in a new national health insurance exchange.

It also includes a series of new taxes and subsidies that would penalize businesses and individuals for failing to purchase insurance and reward them for doing so.

A new subsidy would provide credits to people purchasing insurance that would phase out at 400 percent of the federal poverty level — $88,000 for a family of four. Medicaid would be expanded to families up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

The plan would be paid for by a new 8 percent payroll tax on employers that do not provide health insurance to their employees, a new 2 percent tax on individuals who do not buy health insurance, other taxes still to be determined, and cuts within the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said the bill would end discrimination by insurance companies against people with pre-existing conditions and would create a new benefit to help small businesses buy insurance for their employees.

The bill would also cap out-of-pocket costs to curtail medical bankruptcies. It would fill in the “doughnut hole— in the Medicare prescription drug plan paid for by insisting on rebates from the drug companies. And money would be poured into prevention, wellness, community health centers and the training of doctors and nurses.

Democrats said they are waiting on the Congressional Budget Office to score their bill, but Republicans said it would easily surpass $1 trillion over 10 years.

But Democrats said their plan would ultimately result in lower costs by reforming a system that they argue is full of waste. “There is no question that we will be saving trillions of dollars in the industry,— Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) said. “Is this going to bring down the cost of health insurance? You bet your sweet life.—

Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) said that while 5 percent may still be uninsured — which amounts to some 15 million people — they would be relatively wealthy people who would rather pay the 2 percent annual fine than sign up.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who, along with his father before him has been seeking universal health care for more than a half-century, called the bill “a good, practical program of national health care.—

And Dingell strongly defended the public health insurance option that is at the heart of the bill. Dingell said not having a public option would leave it up to the private insurance companies alone to fix the system. “They’ve had 50 years to do it and more,— he said. “That’s a terrible thought to me.—

Democrats said the details will be tweaked as the bills go through committee, with hearings starting next week.

Republicans, who released a four-page outline of their health care alternative Wednesday, ripped the plan minutes after it was released.

“This plan is nothing less than a government takeover of health care, and families and small businesses who are already footing the bill for Washington’s reckless spending binge will not support it,— House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said.

Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, said he feared “tens of millions of Americans— would lose their existing coverage under the Democratic plan “and put the federal government in charge of determining what doctors and treatments are available to patients.—

Camp said the new taxes would also cause the loss of millions of jobs.

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