Nancy Pelosi says affordable health care for all is on horizon as she unveils House's 20-pound billBy Michael Mcauliff
October 30, 2009
WASHINGTON - It landed with a bang!
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday plunked down her plan to fix America's ailing health care system - all 20 pounds and 1,990 pages of it.
"Leaders of all political parties starting over a century ago, with President Theodore Roosevelt, have called and fought for health care and health insurance reform," Pelosi said from the steps of the U.S. Capitol while unveiling the massive bill Thursday.
"We are about to deliver on the promise of making affordable, quality health care available for all Americans, laying the foundation for a brighter future, for generations to come."
The mammoth measure is the result of months of tough work among Democrats trying to find a mix of policies that will keep conservatives and liberals onboard.
It aims to add 36 million Americans to the insurance rolls, covering 96% of the country.
Congressional budget analysts said that even with a whopping $1.1 trillion price tag, the plan would actually lower the deficit by $104 billion over 10 years.
The proposal does that by raising $740 billion in revenue, largely by slapping a 5.4% surtax on families earning $1 million a year, and individuals making half that.
It's also counting on extracting more than $400 billion in savings from Medicare and Medicaid, even as it expands eligibility for the program for the poor.
Consumer-friendly provisions bar insurers from using pre-existing conditions to deny coverage and from capping out-of-pocket costs at $10,000.
Pelosi also charged ahead with a controversial government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers. It's supposed to be funded entirely by premiums from subscribers.
One controversial element that remains in the bill is end-of-life counseling, a provision that conservative critics like the GOP's ex-veep nominee Sarah Palin lambasted as "death panels."
It provides for Medicare to pay for the visits many people already make to their doctors to decide how they want to be treated if they become incapacitated.
Republicans repeated their slams against the legislation as a government takeover that will heap debt on taxpayers.
They also accused Democrats of writing a bill that was too big and complex to understand - and too liberal.
"It's 1,990 pages. That's about four reams of paper," said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.). "I would say that the people that are getting reamed are the American people."
"It's a mess. It's a collection of special interests thrown together," said Rep. Pete King (R-Nassau County), who favors a more targeted health care fix.
The Senate is still putting the finishing touches on its version of reform. Once both measures are approved, they need to be merged into one - and approved again.