Health Reform Price Tag Has Dems Scrambling To Lower Cost

The up to $1.6 trillion price tag for one version of health care reform has left Democrats scrambling to find a way to rein in costs while not sacrificing the basic tenets of a plan they favor, The Washington Post reports.

The Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday that the President's plan for health reform is likely to force the United States further into debt unless politically touchy changes — such as reducing payments to doctors and hospitals — are built into reform.

"While popular measures such as increasing preventive care, expanding the use of electronic medical records and rewarding doctors for choosing more effective treatments have the potential to lower costs, 'little reliable evidence exists about exactly how to implement those types of changes,' Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas W. Elmendorf said in a letter to Senate budget leaders."

Also, the CBO suggested "significantly limiting" the tax-free status of employer-provided health coverage. The White House is opposed to that idea, though it is popular among Democrats in the Senate (Montgomery, Murray and Connolly, 6/17).

CBS News reports a key question asked by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other Republicans, "How are we going to pay for that, Mr. President?" CBS goes on to say that one question "how the nation really pays for health reform - just got a shocking wake up call." Though Democrats termed the CBO numbers "inconclusive" and the CBO itself said its report was "incomplete," the "magnitude of what Congress is considering" has become "undeniable." Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., told CBS: "The news yesterday from the CBO is a turning point in the health-care debate" (Andrews, 6/16).

Meanwhile, a Senate Finance Committee bill score is due from the CBO and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Finance Committee, gathered with Republican colleagues ahead of the score's release, The New York Times reports. "The rush to trim costs came as Senate Democrats and the White House struggled to respond to an initial financial analysis by the budget office showing that an alternate proposal, developed by the Senate health committee, would cost $1 trillion over 10 years but could still leave 36 million Americans uninsured."

The Times reported that the CBO analysis found the health committee Democrats falling short of their goal, "which is to provide insurance to all Americans and offset the expense of doing so with new taxes or cost savings." The study also "provided ammunition to critics, including the Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. 'The health care proposal being put together is not only extremely defective, it will cost a fortune,' he said" (Herszenhorn and Pear, 6/16).

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