Senate negotiators trim cost of health proposal
WASHINGTON - Senate health care negotiators said yesterday that they have cut the cost of their 10-year coverage plan to under $880 billion as they labored for an elusive bipartisan deal with just a day or so left after months of talks.
Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus said he will have a formal proposal by midweek - maybe today - to meet a deadline for action on President Obama’s top domestic priority with or without Republican support.
At the same time, Baucus, a Montana Democrat, said the bipartisan talks could continue even as his Finance panel begins its formal bill-drafting session next week.
“We’re going to keep working,’’ he said.
His small group of three Democrats and three Republicans has been working for weeks in hopes of finding a bipartisan path toward guaranteeing coverage for all and trying to control the rise in health care spending. Staff aides on both sides said the negotiators are close, but it’s unclear if they will get agreement.
The three Republicans - Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Olympia Snowe of Maine - are under pressure from leaders of their own party, some of whom have publicly dismissed Baucus’s framework as a Democrat’s plan. Snowe appears the most likely to sign on to the bill.
The negotiators said they discussed illegal immigration, benefits for the poor, medical malpractice, and restrictions on abortion coverage. Senator Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said they are close on a verification system to prevent illegal immigrants from getting subsidies to buy health coverage.
Negotiators also said they have found ways to reduce the cost of a planned expansion of Medicaid to cover more people near the federal poverty line. The issue is critical to winning support from governors, because the states share in the cost of the program.