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Baucus Circulates New Health Care Outline

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has circulated the framework for a comprehensive health care reform bill among his five bipartisan negotiating partners to gauge their positions on legislation that they have been discussing since June, sources said Monday.In presenting the proposal Sunday, Baucus asked the group of Finance Committee negotiators to consider the framework and be prepared to offer feedback and even counteroffers when they meet again Tuesday. Baucus made clear the proposal is not a final product or a bill ready for committee action (or “chairman’s mark—), and does not include everything that might be included in legislation that he might ultimately move forward with.But Democratic and Republican sources said Monday morning that Baucus was prepared to treat the proposal as a final, take it-or-leave it offer, depending on the response that the framework gets Tuesday from the Republicans in the gang of six, which includes Baucus, Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.), and GOP Sens. Mike Enzi (Wyo.) , Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the committee ranking member.Baucus’ proposal does not include a public insurance option to compete with private health insurers — a measure staunchly opposed by most Republicans, including those in the group of six. A Senate Democratic source said Monday that the omission of a public insurance option is not likely to go over well with those Democrats who favor that component, which could create problems for Baucus’ framework going forward even if Enzi, Grassley and Snowe decide to back it.Baucus’ plan does include funding for the establishment of nonprofit health insurance cooperatives, a measure that some Democrats and Republicans have shown interest in as a compromise to the disagreement over the public insurance option. Baucus said his package would cost from $800 billion to $900 billion over the next decade and would be deficit neutral.This proposal calls for expanding coverage to the uninsured by qualifying for Medicaid all Americans earning 133 percent of poverty level and below. The New York Times reported Monday that this expansion would be paid for by a new levy on insurance companies estimated to generate about $6 billion annually.Health care affordability tax credits would be provided to aid low- and middle-income families to buy private insurance. Health insurance exchanges would be created, with the goal of easing the purchase of private coverage for individuals and small groups.Baucus advised his colleagues in the gang of six that any counterproposal that they offer to his framework that would increase costs must come with offsets to maintain the package’s budget neutrality. The Finance Chairman previously set Sept. 15 as the negotiating deadline, but President Barack Obama’s decision to address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday appears to have pushed up his timeline.

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