November 1, 2009 / 6:41 PM / 10 years ago

Republicans aim for rival health plan in House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives plan to offer an alternative to Democrats’ massive healthcare reform bill that would not raise taxes or require people or businesses to buy health insurance, the House Republican leader said on Sunday.

House Democrats last week introduced a 1,990-page bill that includes a tax on the wealthy to help fund a government-run public insurance option, which has drawn the most heat amid larger debate on President Barack Obama’s efforts to revamp the nation’s healthcare system.

John Boehner, the House’s top Republican, said his party hoped to introduce one single bill with a “step-by-step approach” that would include allowing the purchase of health insurance across state lines, letting people group together to buy it at lower prices and ending “junk lawsuits.”

The bill will include eight or nine healthcare ideas that have already been introduced separately, he said on CNN’s “State of the Nation.”

It will not try to cover all of the estimated 46 million people in the United States who now have no health insurance, he said. “We will cover millions more,” he said, declining to give an exact number.

The Democrats’ measure is expected to cover 36 million of the uninsured. It also requires people to have some kind of health coverage and all but the smallest companies to cover their workers. It also includes sweeping market reforms that would bar insurers from excluding people for pre-existing conditions or basing premiums on medical history.

DEMOCRATS’ VERSION EXPECTED THIS WEEK

While it would cost a gross $1.055 trillion over 10 years, it would cost a net $894 billion and reduce the deficit by $104 billion over the same period, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to bring Democrats’ proposal to the floor later this week. While she will need to win over more liberal members of her party who want a stronger government role, she needs just 218 votes to pass the measure. Democrats hold 256 seats in the House.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid also has introduced health reform legislation that includes a so-called “public option” plan but it is less clear whether he will be able to hold the Democrats’ 60-vote majority in the Senate to pass the bill.

Republicans in the Senate have said they do not plan to unveil a rival plan but will instead offer amendments on everything from abortion to medical malpractice liability. They also are focused on eliminating requirements to buy health insurance while allowing people who want to buy a policy to do so across state lines.

Republicans have threatened to block debate on the bill but Senator Joseph Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, reiterated that he would not allow that although he opposes any final bill that includes a public option.

He suggested that no healthcare reform bill would be better than one that included a public option.

“The government going into health insurance business is such a mistake that I would use power of a single senator to stop a final vote,” Lieberman said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

But White House senior advisor David Axelrod, also on CBS, said Obama still believes the public option is valuable, although he declined to say whether the president would sign a final healthcare bill that did not include it.

“Both the House and the Senate are going to move forward on bills that likely will have the public option,” Axelrod said.

Details on the Democrats’ Senate proposal are expected this week along with an estimate on how much it will cost.

Critics of the Democratic proposals say they fear taxes on more comprehensive, so-called “Cadillac” health care plans and other changes could drive up the cost of healthcare and raise their premiums, among other concerns.

“The president has been clear — he does not want to impose a tax on the middle class,” senior White House advisor Valerie Jarrett told ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

Additional reporting by John O'Callaghan and Donna Smith

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