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.
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.
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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.