New health overhaul bill, presented by House Democratic leaders, combines legislation passed by three committees over the summer and makes a series of changes to accommodate lawmakers' concerns.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is finalizing legislation merging the work of two committees and making other changes.
The Senate bill has not yet been made public, so some specifics are unknown, The Associated Press reports.
It was also reported, there was rock music instead of trumpets as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and fellow House Democrats used every flourish Thursday to frame their new $894 billion health care measure as historic legislation on par with the creation of Social Security in 1935 and Medicare in 1965.
The nearly 2,000-page bill would transform the health care landscape. Many of its consequences would remain unclear for years to come. There are serious questions about its effect on budget deficits, despite claims to the contrary, and it does not contain the most robust option of a government-run insurance plan that Pelosi and liberals wanted.
But at a minimum, the 10-year plan would greatly expand coverage to an estimated 36 million more Americans - up to 96 percent of all citizens - and immediately ban insurance companies from canceling policies when people get sick and capping lifetime benefits.
The bill would also by 2013 provide access to insurance for those who have been denied it based on pre-existing conditions, a term that increasingly covers anyone who has been diagnosed with any kind of illness, San Francisco Chronicle reports.
News agencies also report, the so-called public plan — a new government insurance plan like Medicare for the elderly, except targeted at people who can't get affordable care elsewhere — has been perhaps the most controversial element of the health care debate. Many Democrats say it's needed to give consumers affordable choices. Republicans and some moderate Democrats fear private companies wouldn't be able to compete. That's led to a difficult search for a middle ground.
A few compromises have been made. The House health care bill, presented Thursday, would create a government-run option that would let the Health and Human Services secretary negotiate rates with providers. The Senate bill outlined by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would establish a federal plan that states can opt out of, an idea pushed by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. It remains to be seen whether Reid has the votes for this plan.
If not, the Senate might vote on other versions of the so-called public option. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, favors holding a public plan in reserve and "triggering" it if private companies aren't providing enough affordable choices in any given state. Snowe has leverage because she is the only Republican who has voted for Democrats' health care bills. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., has suggested leaving the decision to states, and giving them a menu of options from public coverage to their own employee health plans. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., got an amendment included in the Senate Finance bill that would allow states to negotiate with insurers to arrange coverage for people with incomes slightly higher than the cutoff for Medicaid, the government health care program for the poor, The Associated Press reports.
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