Video: CBO paints clearer picture of health costs

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    >> "nightly news" begins now.

    >>> good evening, i'm ann curry in for brian williams tonight. president obama has taken the unusual step postponing a scheduled foreign trip so he could be in washington for a vote on the health care bill expected as early as sunday. also today we are getting a clearer picture how much that bill will cost. we have two reports on the showdown over the health care reform beginning with nbc 's kelly o'donnell at the capitol. kelly, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, ann. tonight democrats are counting more of their house members as yeses. the turning point came today when they could actually read the fine print of this bill online. some democrats use the word "giddy" to describe their reaction when they got the cost estimates from the nonpartisan congressional budget office on this plan they say will cover 32 million americans who don't have health insurance now. today speaker nancy pelosi finally had her house bill ready with new specifics to show off.

    >> they say a picture is worth a thousand words . well, a number is worth a lot, too. i love numbers.

    >> reporter: first, the big numbers . the house democrats plan would cost an estimated $940 billion and reduce the deficit by $138 billion over ten years. democrats think that could make the plan more popular.

    >> this bill is the biggest deficit reduction bill that any member of congress is going to have the opportunity to vote on.

    >> reporter: it may well be the smaller numbers that have the most impact on your life. here is what's new. for seniors on medicare , a $250 rebate this year to help pay for medicines, with more discounts phased in by 2020 . among the new taxes one of the most controversial might be delayed because it might hurt union and middle class workers. that cadillac tax for high-cost health insurance plans would be put off until 2018 . but no delay for a new medicare tax on high earners, with a jump in their medicare tax from 2.9% to $3.8% on income above $200,000. for the first time, that would include investment income from things like stocks and rental property in addition to salary. those new taxes fuel republican opposition to the plan.

    >> everything that we can do to make sure this bill never, ever, ever passes.

    >> reporter: whether this health care plan is defined by its benefits or competing party spin, independent experts say these numbers are just estimates and the real cost could be higher.

    >> you have to assume a lot of things would go right for these numbers to work, but even if they do work, we are still on an unsustainable path.

    >> reporter: you remember all the controversy about those special deals that were put in to the senate bill for certain states, put in there to get votes? well, this bill kills at least two of those. taking out provisions that would have given nebraska and florida special benefits that other states would not have gotten. ann?

updated 3/18/2010 8:35:42 PM ET 2010-03-19T00:35:42

Bye bye, Cornhusker Kickback. Hello, special treatment for Tennessee and North Dakota.

Democrats unveiling revisions Thursday to their health care overhaul bill decided to kill the extra $100 million in Medicaid funds for Nebraska that has become a symbol of backdoor deal making.

But the 153 pages of changes to the massive health care package include extra money for hospitals in Tennessee that serve large numbers of low-income patients. And though the bill would revamp the nation's student loan system to make the government the only lender, one bank — the state-owned Bank of North Dakota — would be allowed to continue making student loans.

That provision ended up rubbing Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., the wrong way. Fearing it would become a target by Republicans in what he said is "an overly heated partisan environment," he asked the House late Thursday to remove it from the legislation.

Special spending for other states
Still alive is special spending for Louisiana, Connecticut, Montana and other states that was included in the health care bill that the Senate approved in December. The House may give it final approval this weekend.

Senior White House officials have sent mixed signals about the special deals. They initially demanded that they be eliminated, but by Sunday senior White House adviser David Axelrod said they only objected to provisions affecting just one state.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs last week singled out projects from Montana and Connecticut as items President Barack Obama wanted removed. There was resistance, however, from two influential committee chairmen, Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, and their projects have survived.

To help win the vote of Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., the massive measure the Senate passed on Christmas Eve had included $100 million that only Nebraska would get in added federal Medicaid assistance.

Immediately mocked as the Cornhusker Kickback, critics called it the epitome of special Washington dealing, and even Nelson advocated ending his state's special treatment. Under the changes announced Thursday, the Nebraska provision would be deleted and all states would get additional Medicaid help from Washington.

Also eliminated from the Senate measure was a provision allowing about 800,000 elderly Floridians to keep enhanced Medicare benefits that are being cut for residents of other states.

The changes also include an additional $99 million in 2012 and 2013 for Tennessee hospitals that treat many poor people.

New aid for colleges serving minorities
Retiring Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., has fought for the funds for years to bring the state's aid up to par with the rest of the country, spokeswoman Emily Phelps said. She said their inclusion had nothing to do with his announcement Thursday that he will vote for the final health legislation after opposing an earlier version in November.

The new package also promises new aid for colleges serving minority students, using money the government is supposed to save by no longer paying banks to make student loans. Included are annual payments of $100 million for schools with large numbers of Hispanic students, the same amount for colleges with many black students, and millions more for schools with large numbers of native Americans and other minorities.

Based on Thursday's changes, the health legislation also:

  • Retains $300 million in extra Medicaid aid for Louisiana, which had helped win support for the Senate health bill from Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. The state is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina.
  • Keeps $100 million included in the Senate bill that is expected to go for a public hospital in Connecticut sought by Dodd, who is retiring.
  • Preserves language won by Baucus permitting many of the 2,900 residents of Libby, Mont., to qualify for Medicare benefits. Some of them have asbestos-related diseases from a now-shuttered mine.
  • Provides an additional $8.5 billion over the next decade for 11 states and the District of Columbia to help them pay for the more generous Medicaid assistance they have been providing low-income residents. These states are Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.
  • Maintains a Senate-approved provision giving extra money for hospitals and doctors in North and South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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