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Originally published July 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 16, 2009 at 1:20 PM

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Senate panel moves ahead with health-care legislation

The Senate health committee, approving major health-care legislation for the first time in 15 years, put forward a sweeping plan Wednesday to provide nearly every American with insurance regardless of income or medical condition and to create a public option to compete directly with private insurers.

Los Angeles Times

The Senate proposal

Who's covered: Aims to cover 97 percent of Americans.

Cost: About $615 billion over 10 years, but it's only one piece of a larger Senate bill.

How it's paid for: The Finance Committee is responsible for figuring out how to cover costs.

Mandates: Individuals would have to carry insurance, enforced through tax penalty with hardship waivers; employers who don't offer coverage would pay a $750 penalty each year for each full-time worker (businesses with 25 or fewer workers would be exempted).

Other provisions: public option to compete with private insurers; no denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions; subsides for poorest Americans; individuals and small businesses could buy insurance through state-based pools.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Senate health committee, approving major health-care legislation for the first time in 15 years, put forward a sweeping plan Wednesday to provide nearly every American with insurance regardless of income or medical condition and to create a public option to compete directly with private insurers.

The bill also would place new requirements on many employers to provide coverage.

The party-line vote marked what President Obama called "a major milestone" in his bid to revamp the U.S. health-care system. But there were ominous signs that the debate was moving into a new, more bruising phase in which insurance companies, hospitals and others fight to shape details that affect them.

Hospitals and insurers issued sharp warnings that a government insurance program could jeopardize patient care. And leading business groups, many of which have been pushing for a health-care overhaul, have stepped up attacks on similar legislation that House Democrats introduced this week.

The National Federation of Independent Business, an influential, historically conservative small-business group, also sent a letter to House lawmakers saying that bill "threatens the viability of our nation's job creators ... destroys choice and competition for private insurance and fails to address the core challenge facing small business — cost."

Those dire predictions were contradicted by a preliminary Congressional Budget Office assessment of the public insurance option in the House bill. By 2019, the CBO estimated, only 9 million people nationally would get insurance from the government plan, while more than 175 million people would get coverage from private insurers.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., a lead author of the bill, brushed aside the complaints of the small-business group and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"They are against everything," Waxman said. "They don't want a health-care bill."

Senior Senate Democrats also took aim at insurers Wednesday, threatening to assess a fee to help offset the cost of covering millions of people now without coverage. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said the Finance Committee — at work on its own legislation — could seek as much as $100 billion from the industry.

Obama continued to lobby for at least some Republican support, meeting with a group of GOP senators that included Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

But the president also hit back at critics for a second consecutive day, saying the public insurance option "would make health care more affordable by increasing competition, providing more choices and keeping insurance companies honest."

His independent political operation also upped the ante by launching television ads against members of his party who have expressed skepticism about his approach to health care.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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