July 13, 2009 / 12:56 PM / 10 years ago

Republicans plan rival healthcare plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pushing back against Democratic plans to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system, Republicans on Tuesday readied a less costly alternative they say will make insurance more affordable.

Representative David Camp, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said the plan offered significant reforms, including incentives for healthy living, protection for doctors against malpractice lawsuits and tax breaks to encourage small businesses to offer insurance to their workers.

“We obviously think it’s important to make healthcare more affordable and to drive down costs,” Camp said in an interview before a planned news briefing on the plan on Wednesday.

U.S. healthcare costs nearly 16 percent of gross domestic product, roughly twice what many developed countries pay per capita. Costs are rising much faster than inflation, yet 46 million people are uninsured and have little access to care.

Healthcare reform is a major goal of President Barack Obama, who warned on Monday the system was “a ticking time bomb for the federal budget.

While the minority party in the House has little power to stop a Democratic bill likely to include a new government-run plan to help cover the millions uninsured, Camp said it was important that Republicans offer up a less costly alternative.

“We don’t want the solution to cost more than the problem,” Camp said. The Ways and Means Committee is one of a number of panels in the Democratic-controlled House and Senate drafting the overhaul that Obama wants to sign into law by October.

Republicans are pointing to new estimates that healthcare proposals taking shape in the Senate could add between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion to an already bloated U.S. deficit.

Those estimates came as the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee works on its proposal, which will include sweeping insurance market changes as well as a government plan yet to be fleshed out.

Senators said the estimates by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office were preliminary and based on incomplete and evolving legislation.

The Senate Finance Committee will offer its proposal later this week and a committee aide said the bill would cost less than $1 trillion over 10 years. That will be paid for mostly by cost savings in the medical system, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus told reporters.

In an interview with Reuters on Monday, Baucus said senators were moving close to agreement on a bill that could win support from both Republicans and Democrats — which could be important for Obama when he seeks to implement the proposed changes.

Lawmakers have been discussing a potential compromise over the role of the government in covering the uninsured. The proposal to create federally chartered nonprofit cooperatives to compete with insurance companies and small businesses is still being discussed, Baucus said. (Editing by Peter Cooney)

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