Forecasts of dramatic jumps in U.S. medical costs are pushing
lawmakers to reach a deal on a major healthcare revamp that seeks to
extend coverage to all Americans, a leading U.S. senator said on

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat with a lead
role in crafting the proposed overhaul, said he saw a 75 percent to 80
percent likelihood that legislation will pass the U.S. Senate with
broad support from Democrats and Republicans.

I think at the end of the day, every Democrat and a good number of Republicans will agree, Baucus said.

Congress has struggled for decades to expand medical coverage to uninsured Americans and President Barack Obama has made healthcare reform an immediate priority.

Baucus said lawmakers were now motivated by sobering projections
of rising health costs and millions more uninsured Americans, now
estimated at about 46 million, if they fail.

Baucus spoke as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, an independent
healthcare research group, released a study that said the number of
uninsured Americans could soar to more than 65 million in 10 years as
healthcare costs more than double.

In the worst case scenario, the number of uninsured Americans would
increase to 57.7 million in 2014 and to 65.7 million in 2019, the
report concluded, adding that without major changes the number would
grow to at least 57 million in the next 10 years.

Mostly middle-income and even some high-income families would join
the ranks of the uninsured, the study concluded. Rising health costs
also will hurt employers who provide health insurance to their workers,
it said.

Federal and state governments would take big budget hits as they
struggle to cover low income children and pay for rising costs in the
Medicare and Medicaid health programs for the elderly and poor, the
report said.


A sticking point is what role the government will play in covering
the uninsured. Democrats want a new public plan to compete with private
insurers but Republicans and private insurers say that could drive
companies out of business.

Lawmakers must cut costs and raise revenues to pay for a policy some
experts say could cost as much as $1.5 trillion. Some proposed measures
are controversial, including raising federal alcohol taxes and a
proposed tax on sugary drinks. Lawmakers also are looking at taxing
some employer-provided insurance benefits, a move opposed by unions.

Obama wants to sign an overhaul of the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare
industry into law by the end of the year and Baucus told a briefing
sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation that his committee was on
track to meet that goal. The committee expects to act on a bill and
send it to the full Senate by mid-June, he said.

Democratic leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives said they
expect that chamber to pass its version of legislation by August. That
would give the two chambers time to work out their differences and meet
Obama's deadline.

Baucus has been meeting with lawmakers, industry and consumer groups
to try to reach broad consensus. He said the bill would aim to reduce
costs and cover as many people as possible without adding to huge U.S.
budget deficits.

We are not going to get 100 percent coverage but we are going to
try to get as close as we can and we are working hard to accomplish
that, Baucus said.

Baucus said some people always will fall through the cracks and that
it would be politically explosive to include undocumented workers in
the coverage plan. But he said he felt the country would get the change
it needed.

Nearly everybody is going to get health insurance, Baucus said.

(Editing by Bill Trott)