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Baucus: Health Care Bill Would Improve Quality and Access

Updated: 2:20 p.m.Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) Wednesday afternoon introduced his long-awaited $856 billion health care reform bill, saying it would accomplish President Barack Obama’s goals of improving quality and access while lowering premium costs over the long term.Baucus, standing alone at the lectern, said his bill is the only legislation unveiled so far that not only addresses Americans’ concerns with the nation’s $2.3 trillion health care system but also can pass the Senate, if not the full Congress. The proposal has already run into strong resistance from Republicans and liberal Democrats. Baucus plans to begin marking up the measure in Finance next week.“The chairman’s mark I’m releasing today delivers on these critical reforms. It meets the criteria laid out by President Obama,— Baucus told reporters in a packed Finance Committee hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. “It reflects an effort to reach common ground. … It’s a balanced, common-sense bill that can pass the Senate.—Baucus worked for months with a bipartisan group of six Finance negotiators hoping to reach a deal on bill. Although the gang of six pledged to continue talking into next week’s legislative markup, it was clear on Wednesday that Baucus was not going to receive the bipartisan support he had sought. The gang of six includes Baucus, Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.), and GOP Sens. Mike Enzi (Wyo.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine). None of these Senators joined Baucus as he formally unveiled the bill on Wednesday. However, Bingaman said he has informed the Finance chairman that he would be willing to vote the bill out of committee in its current form. Still, Bingaman, who is also a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he prefers the public insurance option in that panel’s bill as opposed to the nonprofit health cooperatives proposed in Baucus’ legislation.Bingaman said he would like to see the public insurance option replace the co-op proposal when the Finance and HELP bills are merged. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to wed the competing measures and bring one bill to the floor later this month.“This is a big, complicated piece of legislation, and we knew that going in,— Bingaman said. “I think Sen. Baucus deserves great credit for producing a bill that is very credible in accomplishing the main objectives that the president has set out.—Baucus’ package would use industry fees, taxes on premium health care plans and mandates on businesses and individuals to keep the bill deficit-neutral. Baucus also argued his bill would drive down overall health care costs and consumer premiums. The legislation would expand access to Medicaid as a means to extend health care to the uninsured poor, require individuals to purchase health insurance and require that most businesses provide coverage to employees. Baucus said the bill would strengthen Medicare and lower prescription drug costs for seniors, as well as implement popular insurance reforms for all Americans, including a proposal to outlaw private insurers from refusing coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions.

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