U.S. Senator Max Baucus unveiled his plan for a 10-year, $856 billion healthcare overhaul on Wednesday that would revamp insurance rules but does not include a government-run option backed by liberal Democrats.
Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, made the bill public after months of negotiations that alienated some of his fellow Democrats and attracted no Republican supporters.
Many elements of the plan were released last week and closely mirror President Barack Obama's proposals to overhaul the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system, his top domestic priority.
The cost of America's broken healthcare system has stretched families, businesses and the economy too far for too long. For too many, quality, affordable healthcare is simply out of reach, Baucus said in an introduction to the bill, which the committee will vote on next week.
The Baucus proposal does not include a controversial government-run public insurance option but calls for the creation of non-profit cooperatives to create competition in the insurance market and reduce costs.
The plan requires all U.S. citizens and legal residents to obtain health insurance and provides subsidies on a sliding scale to help people purchase coverage.
Some 46 million people in the United States -- nearly a sixth of the population -- now have no health insurance.
Under the Baucus plan, insurance companies could no longer deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and would be barred from offering limited-benefit plans or placing lifetime limits on coverage.
The proposal also would create state-based exchanges where individuals and small businesses could shop for insurance.
The bill does not require employers to offer health insurance, but companies with 50 or more full-time workers would pay a fee for employees who obtain policies subsidized by federal tax credits.
FEE ON INSURERS
The proposal also requires that health insurance providers collectively pay an annual fee of $6 billion starting in 2010, with other health companies making smaller collective payments to help fund the reforms in the bill.
Opinion polls show Americans are split over Obama's plans, which he says are designed to rein in costs, improve healthcare, regulate insurers to protect consumers and expand coverage to the uninsured.
Baucus led months of talks among the so-called Gang of Six negotiators -- three Democrats and three Republicans -- in hopes of winning Republican support.
But none of the three Republicans -- Charles Grassley, Mike Enzi and Olympia Snowe -- has endorsed the proposals so far.
The panel will be the last of five congressional committees to take up a healthcare bill before each chamber takes its initial votes on the overhaul. With congressional elections scheduled in 2010, Obama has urged Congress to complete work on the plan by the end of this year.
Some Democrats have complained about the concessions made to Republicans, particularly reductions in the scope and elimination of the public option.
Critics of the option say it would hurt insurance companies and give government too big a role. Despite his support for a government-run insurance option, Obama has signaled it is not an essential element of any ultimate healthcare overhaul.
Senate Finance Committee member John Rockefeller, a Democrat and a strong backer of a public option, says he will not support the panel's healthcare bill without significant changes.
(Editing by John O'Callaghan and Jackie Frank)