Baucus health plan unveiled

Long-waited Baucus health plan would cost $856 billion over 10 years and mandate insurance coverage for every American.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, unveiled a summary of his long-awaited health plan Wednesday, setting the stage for a legislative showdown on President Obama's top domestic priority.

(Read Baucus health plan.)

The bill would cost $856 billion over 10 years and mandate insurance coverage for every American.

Baucus, a Montana Democrat, claimed the bill -- released with no Republican support -- would not add to the federal deficit.

The measure drops the public health insurance option favored by Obama and many Democratic leaders, according to the summary. As expected, the plan instead calls for the creation of nonprofit health care cooperatives.

As with other proposals, the bill would bar insurance companies from dropping a policyholder in the event of illness if that person had paid his or her premium in full. It would add new protections for people with pre-existing conditions and establish tax credits to help low- and middle-income families purchase insurance coverage.

Insurance companies also would be barred from imposing annual caps or lifetime limits on coverage. Individuals, however, would be fined up to $950 annually for failing to obtain coverage; families could be fined as much as $3,800.

The plan would create health insurance exchanges to make it easier for small groups and individuals to buy insurance.

"The cost of America's broken health care system has stretched families, businesses and the economy too far for too long. For too many, quality, affordable health care is simply out of reach," Baucus said in a written statement.

"This is a unique moment in history where we can finally reach an objective so many of us have sought for so long."

The Republican Senate leadership ripped the proposal, arguing it would impose unreasonable new tax burdens while cutting vital government programs.

"This partisan proposal cuts Medicare by nearly a half-trillion dollars, and puts massive new tax burdens on families and small businesses, to create yet another thousand-page, trillion-dollar government program," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

"Only in Washington would anyone think that makes sense, especially in this economy."

The Senate Finance Committee is the last of five congressional committees needed to approve health care proposals before the topic can be taken up by both the full Senate and the full House of Representatives.

Various forms of the legislation proposed by Democrats have already cleared three House committees, as well as the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Baucus has led months of negotiations with five other Finance Committee members -- three Republicans and two Democrats -- on what has generally been considered to be the only proposal capable of winning bipartisan support in Congress.

But on Tuesday afternoon, hopes for a bipartisan consensus on Baucus' bill appeared to wane. GOP senators Olympia Snowe of Maine, Charles Grassley of Iowa, and Mike Enzi of Wyoming -- the three Republicans involved in the "Gang of Six" committee negotiations -- all still had concerns that had not been sufficiently addressed, Snowe, Grassley and other Republican sources indicated.

The three Republicans did not say, however, that they would not ultimately support the compromise measure. Republican sources close to the senators stressed that they intend to keep negotiating and plan to offer amendments once Baucus introduces the measure.

On Wednesday morning, however, Baucus said he was optimistic that the bill will ultimately win Republican votes.

"I think when we finally vote on the bill ... there will be Republican support," Baucus told reporters on Capitol Hill.

"They'll become a little more familiar with it" in the days ahead, he said, and have several opportunities to offer amendments during the full committee's consideration of the bill.

Indicating the potential for formation of a Democratic consensus around the bill, Baucus also noted that it is "very similar" to the framework laid out by Obama during the president's speech to Congress last week. To top of page

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