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Lawmakers Grapple With Costs of Health Care Reform

As health care reform legislation moves forward, lawmakers are grappling with the thorny question of how to cover the costs of such an overhaul, including a possible new tax surcharge on the wealthy. Two analysts discuss the issue.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And still to come on the NewsHour tonight: the mounting casualties in Afghanistan; and a double suicide by a British couple.

    That follows our health care debate. NewsHour correspondent Betty Ann Bowser begins with a report for our Health Unit, a partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

    BETTY ANN BOWSER With a 13-10 vote along party lines, the Senate Health Committee today became the first of five congressional committees to approve a massive overhaul of American health care.

    Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, who stood in for ailing Committee Chairman Senator Edward Kennedy, spoke to reporters.

    SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), Connecticut: This bill, because of what we've done, we think is going to increase access, it's going to reduce costs to individuals, and it's going to improve the quality of health care in our country. We're going to have to make some investments to achieve those results.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    The $600 billion Senate measure would set up a new government-run insurance program to compete with private insurers, a so-called public option, and require most Americans to get health coverage. It would also provide subsidies for many uninsured Americans earning up to four times the federal poverty level — or nearly $90,000 a year for a family of four — to buy insurance. And it would mandate employers contribute to the cost of coverage for their employees.

    But left unanswered is how the health care reform overhaul would be paid for. The Senate committee announcement came one day after House Democrats unveiled a $1 trillion dollar-plus bill of their own which contained many of the same provisions.

    To pay for its plan, the House measure relies in part on a new tax surcharge on the wealthy, individuals who earn more than $280,000 and families who earn more than $350,000 a year. The surcharge would begin at 1 percent and could go as high as 5 percent.

    In a push to get legislation to his desk by October, President Obama has scheduled regular health care events at the White House. Today, he was flanked by nurses in the Rose Garden as he praised both bills.

    BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: Both proposals will take what's best about our system today and make it the basis for our system tomorrow, reducing costs, raising quality, and ensuring fair treatment of consumers by the insurance industry.