- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 18, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) — Moving toward the final stage of a historic debate, the Senate’s top Democrat prepared to unveil a new health care bill that aims to meet President Barack Obama’s goal of expanding coverage without adding to the federal deficit.

Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada met Wednesday morning at the Capitol with Vice President Joe Biden to go over the game plan on health care. Crucial to the White House and Reid is winning over a handful of reluctant moderate Democrats.

Reid planned to present the bill to Democratic senators at a closed-door meeting late Wednesday afternoon. His goal was to deliver a formal cost and coverage estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, and put the legislation on track toward a floor debate within days.

Health care allies around Washington were alerted that Reid and top Senate Democrats planned to hold a Capitol Hill rally for the bill at noon Thursday.

The Democratic leader has spent weeks melding separate bills from the Senate health committee and the Finance panel, trying to find compromise on dozens of difficult issues. His roughly $900 billion, 10-year health care remake faces rough going in the Senate, with Republican leaders determined to use every available tactic to delay or derail the bill.

For his part, Reid must hold Democrats together to overcome procedural challenges on the floor that require 60 votes for him to prevail. The debate could drag on for weeks.

Reid’s bill would gradually extend health insurance coverage to nearly all Americans by providing government subsidies to help pay premiums. Starting in 2013, it would ban insurance company practices such as charging more to those in poor health, or denying them coverage altogether.

All Americans would be required to carry health insurance, either through an employer, a government plan or by purchasing it on their own. The Medicaid health insurance program for low-income people would be significantly expanded.

The bill would set up new insurance marketplaces — called exchanges — primarily for those who now have a hard time getting or keeping coverage. Most people buying coverage through the exchanges would get tax credits to help cover the cost of premiums. They would be able to pick private coverage or a new government health insurance plan.

However, the government plan may not be available all across the country. Reid would allow individual states to opt out.

To keep down costs, the government subsidies and consumer protections don’t take effect until 2013. During the three-year transition, Reid’s bill would create a federal fund to help provide affordable coverage for people with medical problems turned down by private insurers in the meantime.

The majority of Americans who now have employer-provided health insurance would not see major changes. Among the exceptions to that rule: Children would be allowed to stay on their parents’ health insurance until their mid-20s.

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