Baucus Confident on Bipartisan Support for Health Care Bill

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus today released a 10-year, $856 billion health care proposal, which is already being met with criticism on both sides of the political aisle.

The Montana Democrat dubbed his bill as balanced and fiscally responsible. At a news conference, Baucus expressed confidence that the final bill will get bipartisan support, despite his appearing without any fellow party members or Republicans.

Video of Sen. Max Baucus presenting his health care plan.
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"Everyone should understand it's just the beginning, but it's a good beginning. The choice is now on those on the other side of the aisle," he said. "At the end of the day, there will be Republican support for this bill."

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the Baucus bill would cost a total of $774 billion over 10 years. But the bill would, in effect, cost more than $800 billion, Finance committee staffers say, because of differences in scoring between the CBO and Finance committee. That would not account for the $900 billion in federal revenue raised by taxes on insurance companies, employers who don't offer coverage and assumed cost savings in Medicare that are envisioned to pay for the bill and keep it deficit neutral.

Video of ABC News Top Line
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The White House had little to say about the plan, except that it would provide momentum to the president's goal of achieving health care overhaul in the near future.

"Last week, the president laid out his plan to bring stability and security to Americans who have insurance, and high-quality, high-quality, affordable coverage for those who don't have insurance," White House spokesman Reid Cherlin said. "The Senate Finance Committee [proposal] released by chairman Baucus is another boost of momentum for the president's effort to reform the health system."

Baucus' Health Care Plan

Under Baucus' plan, all Americans would be required to purchase health care or pay a fine if they don't. It also includes provisions barring insurance companies from prohibiting care based on pre-existing conditions, and prevents practices such as charging more to people with more serious health problems. But, at the same time, the language in the bill suggests that those rules could be relaxed based on tobacco use, age and family composition. It would also place caps on yearly health care costs.

VIDEO: Health Care Bill Released
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Baucus' proposal includes a provision to create an insurance exchange system on the Internet, an idea President Obama also proposed last week during his joint address to Congress.

The "state-based Web portals, or 'exchanges,'... would direct consumers purchasing plans on the individual market to every health coverage option available in their Zip codes," according to the plan. "The exchanges would offer standardized health insurance enrollment applications, a standard format companies would use to present their insurance plans, and standardized marketing materials."

Much to the chagrin of some Democratic lawmakers and liberal groups, the proposal does not include any language for a government-run insurance plan that would compete with the private sector. But it opens the way for health care cooperatives -- member-owned, non-profit companies providing health insurance. All other bills produced in Congress so far -- three in the House and one in the Senate -- include a public option.

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