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House Democrats paring cost of health care bill

Early estimates from congressional budget umpires show that House Democrats are close to President Barack Obama's $900 billion target for health care legislation, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Early estimates from congressional budget umpires show that House Democrats are close to President Barack Obama's $900 billion target for health care legislation, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday.

The House versions, including a government-run insurance plan as an option for consumers, would cost under $900 billion over 10 years, said Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Pelosi, D-Calif. But, he said, "No final policy decisions have been made on how to proceed."

Preliminary cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office show the evolving legislation is already within range of Obama's target. The numbers remain in flux, however, because House leaders are still tinkering with details and sending in new policy ideas to budget analysts.

The ballpark figure of $900 billion reflects the cost of expanding coverage by providing tax credits to help people buy health insurance, and also by broadening the Medicaid health program to reach more low-income people, Daly said.

It does not include some $240 billion over ten years that lawmakers want to spend to address a shortfall in Medicare payments to doctors. The White House says those costs should not be included in the pricetag for the health care overhaul. But the Medicare provision was part of the original House bill.

The final House bill is expected to include a government-sponsored insurance plan that would compete with private health insurers. Leading Democratic lawmakers say support is building for a Medicare-like plan in which the government would set the payment levels for medical providers, instead of negotiating.

Health care legislation is expected to be on the House floor in early November. In the Senate, Democratic leaders hope to be on the floor at around the same time, but they must first reconcile differences between two committee-passed versions.