- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Senate Finance Committee’s health care overhaul will not hurt the federal budget and cover 94 percent of non-elderly, Congress’s nonpartisan scorekeeper said Wednesday.

The long-awaited report by the Congressional Budget Office is good news for Democrats, who have faced criticism over the potential costs of tackling health care, and for Committee Chairman Max Baucus, who had said he would only pass a bill that didn’t harm the budget in the long run.

“This is very good news,” Mr. Baucus told reporters. “We reduced the deficit by $81 billion in the first 10 years in the legislation that will be reported out of the committee soon, reduces the deficit further in the next 10 years, and increases coverage to 94 percent.”

CBO said the health care bill will cost $829 billion over 10 years but that would be more than offset by increased taxes on high-cost private insurance plans and cuts to some government health care payments. Over those 10 years, the deficit would actually be $81 billion less.

The report now opens the door to a vote for final passage in the committee. The committee is the last of five congressional panels to take up a reform bill. Mr. Baucus said late Wednesday that he has not yet scheduled a vote but previously indicated he’s give members of his committee “sufficient” time to review the CBO analysis. Republicans have said they want 72 hours to review it.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said CBO’s report underscores how massive the health care bill is, and said if the bill were calculated from 2013, when the major provisions kick in, the calculations look much more grim.

“If you take the years 2013 through 2023 you’ll find it’s a very expensive bill,” he said.

“CBO refutes that,” Mr. Baucus said in response.

The plan’s taxes on insurance companies would raise $201 billion over 10 years and other taxes would raise $110 billion, according to the report.

By 2019, the bill would reduce the number of non-elderly people without insurance by 29 million, leaving just 25 million without coverage —or about 6 percent of the non-elderly population.

Elderly are covered under the government’s Medicare program. About a third of the 25 million without insurance in 2019 would be illegal immigrants.

The report said that states would take on about $33 billion in new Medicaid expenses over 10 years. Mr. Baucus said the new costs equal about 1.3 percent and that everyone must contribute to universal coverage.

“The sharing in this bill is very fair,” he said.

CBO said 23 million people would purchase coverage through the new insurance exchanges created under the bill and the Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program rolls would expand by 14 million people.

CBO said the number of people getting insurance through their jobs or buying coverage on their own “would decline by several million.”

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