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Senate health overhaul cost put at $1.6 trillion

Congress Health Overhaul
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., second from right, flanked by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, right, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., left, gestures during a news conference on health care reform, Tuesday.Susan Walsh / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The latest cost estimates for health care legislation in Congress are around $1.6 trillion over 10 years, two Senate sources said Tuesday as concerns mounted over the price tag for the sweeping overhaul.

Two Senate staffers, one Democratic and one Republican, said Congressional Budget Office estimates put the cost of the Finance Committee version of the bill at around $1.6 trillion.

On Monday, the budget office said the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee version would cost $1 trillion over ten years and only cover about one-third of the nearly 50 million uninsured.

The staffers who disclosed the latest estimates spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of negotiations over the legislation.

A third staffer, a Finance Committee Democratic aide who also spoke on condition of anonymity, indicated committee members are working to lower the cost to less than $1 trillion over 10 years, a level preferred by the Obama administration.

Costs are becoming a big worry for moderate Republicans the administration is hoping to win over, as well as for fiscally conservative Democrats. The high estimates have disappointed senators and slowed down the work of key committees.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, on Tuesday said the process that produced Kennedy's bill is "broken."

"We have a fundamental obligation to ensure this legislation does not increase the deficit and, sadly, current congressional health care reform efforts fall woefully short," Snowe said in a statement. Obama also says he wants the bill to be fully paid.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius discounted the importance of the early estimates, while saying the administration wants to keep the cost at about $1 trillion over 10 years, with about two-thirds of that coming from shifting funds from existing health programs like Medicare and Medicaid.