National

Obama reveals health care blueprint

WASHINGTON — With a high-stakes bipartisan summit just four days away, President Obama on Monday unveiled a detailed blueprint for overhauling the U.S. health care system.

Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs described the plan as a "starting point" for Thursday's summit between the White House and GOP congressional leaders.

Republicans almost instantly dismissed the plan.

"This plan is just another version of the same government takeover of health care that Americans have already stamped 'reject,' " said House Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga.

Here is a look at how this election-year document would change that system in several key areas.

Controlling costs

Obama made cost control a plank of his presidential campaign, and his health care blueprint follows through with that goal. For one thing, it boosts tax credits for middle-income Americans to buy insurance by greater amounts than did a bill that passed the Senate late last year.

A family of four with an income of between $66,000 and $77,000, for example, would pay no more than 9.5 percent of its income in insurance premiums thanks to subsidies proposed by Obama. Under the Senate bill, that amount was 9.8 percent.

Obama is also proposing a new Health Insurance Rate Authority that could block health care premium increases deemed excessive. Under that proposal the administration, in conjunction with states, will develop a review process for "unreasonable premium increases," Gibbs said.

The White House also said the health insurance "exchanges" created under its plan will lower costs by increasing competition.

Expanding coverage

The White House's plan would require individuals to buy health insurance, and officials estimate that more than 31 million Americans will be covered under the proposal.

In addition to extending tax credits to families to buy insurance, it expands Medicaid coverage.

Obama's plan also puts a burden on employers to offer coverage. Big companies that offer coverage would have to automatically enroll new eligible employees. But small companies won't be required to enroll employees and would get tax credits to offer coverage to their workers.

Obama still supports a government-run health insurance option, White House officials said Monday, but it's not included in the blueprint. The Senate's bill also omitted the so-called "public option."

Market reforms

As in the Senate and House bills, the White House blueprint would deny insurance companies the ability to restrict coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions.

Moreover, the insurance exchanges would give "tens of millions" of Americans the same insurance choices now enjoyed by members of Congress.

In a bid to attract Republican support for the proposal, Obama also included a number of policies aimed at cracking down on waste, fraud and abuse in the health care market. Among those are expanded access for private plans to a data bank used in fighting fraud, and new registration of and background checks on entities that bill for Medicare on behalf of providers.

How it's paid for

Obama's plan would cost $950 billion over 10 years — more than what the Senate proposed but less than the House's version. The White House says that Obama's plan will cut the deficit by $100 billion over the next decade, and by about $1 trillion over 20 years.

The plan contains a tax on high-end (or "Cadillac") health plans, but delays it for all workers until 2018. The Senate bill would have taxed plans worth $23,000 and above, but Obama wants to increase that amount to $27,500.

Individuals who don't buy insurance would also be responsible for paying fines; so would businesses that do not offer coverage.

Another key revenue-raiser is a 2.9 percent tax on income from interest, dividends and other unearned income for those households with income above $250,000. The tax revenue from the unearned income would go to the Medicare program's Supplemental Medical Insurance trust fund.

Drug companies would also get hit with $33 billion in new fees to help pay for the plan.

  Comments