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House Democrats Unveil Plan to Overhaul Health Care

House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled their proposal to overhaul the nation's health care system. The plan includes a government-run insurance option, and would be paid for in part by a tax increase on the wealthy. NPR's Julie Rovner explains the move.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And still to come on the NewsHour tonight: paying the bills in California.

    That follows a health care reform update. Gwen Ifill reports for our Health Unit, a partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats introduced their health care bill this afternoon, all 1,000 pages of it.

    REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), Speaker of the House: This bill is a starting point and a path to success, to lower costs for consumers and businesses, to give greater choice for Americans, including keeping your plan, your doctor or plan if you like them, better quality of care, putting doctors, not insurance companies, back in charge, and to provide stability and peace of mind that you cannot be denied care or coverage for a pre-existing condition.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The measure, a product of three separate House committees, would extend coverage to millions of the uninsured by requiring employers or individuals to purchase insurance; include a government-run health care plan to compete with private insurers, the so-called public option; prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage or charging higher premiums based on pre-existing conditions.

    House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the bill would be paid for.

    REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), House Majority Leader: We'll be on budget. We're going to pay for this bill. We're not going to add additional debt to the American people. And we will produce a product that will give to the American people a sense of security and well-being.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Five hundred billion dollars of the costs would come from increasing new taxes on the wealthy, and hundreds of billions of dollars more would come from cuts in Medicare and Medicaid spending.

    In a concession to conservative lawmakers from rural areas, businesses with a payroll of less than $250,000 would be exempt from the insurance mandate. But even before the announcement was made, House Republicans were critical.

    Michigan Representative Dave Camp.

    REP. DAVE CAMP (R), Michigan: As we approach this health care debate, I think anywhere you slice it, this is a trillion-dollar bill that is going to result in massive taxes on about half of small-business owners.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The Democrats resisted putting an overall price tag on their plan. California's Henry Waxman chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

    REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), California: I wouldn't want to speculate about exact amounts because CBO is going to come up with their official score, and that's the score we abide by, so we should get that very soon, and we'll share it with everybody.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But Pelosi and other Democrats say they plan to meet the president's White House-imposed deadline to win passage before the end of the summer.

    President Obama, meanwhile, has turned over part of his schedule each day to a health care pitch. Before he left for Michigan today, he released a statement praising the House plan.

    The House plan, he said, "would begin the process of fixing what's broken about our health care system, reducing costs for all, building on what works, and covering an estimated 97 percent of all Americans."

    Lawmakers have pressed the president to become more actively involved in the details of getting the legislation passed. Today, some Democrats said they are satisfied that he is.

    SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader: In the meeting we had yesterday, the president is engaged. He's willing to be as helpful as anyone asks him to be. I think that role that they've played so far has been extremely positive. Any time that I've called down about a problem dealing with health care, I get an immediate response.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But Senate Republicans weighed in, as well, saying the price tag the Democrats have in mind will be too steep.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader: Most of us are scratching our heads wondering how you can design a plan in order to try to cover the uninsured, bring more people into the coverage, and still save money. In fact, that won't happen. So what we need is real cost estimates that make sense.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Senate committees are also working on their version of health care reform.