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Committee Dems Release Cheaper, Better Public Health Care Bill

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Sen. Ted Kennedy's Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee released details of its plan Thursday to expand access to health insurance, create a public option that consumers could buy into and reduce health care costs over the long haul.

The Congressional Budget Office evaluated the proposed bill, estimating that it would cost slightly more than $600 billion over ten years, considerably less than earlier predictions. The CBO score was also released by the health committee Thursday.

A Medicaid expansion that is likely also be included in the overhaul is not part of the HELP committee's jurisdiction, but it could add several hundred billion dollars to the cost (that estimate doesn't account for potential savings.) The dollar amount also omits some other costs that come from areas outside the committee's jurisdiction, but it also doesn't rely on savings that are expected.

The overall cost is still looking to be roughly a trillion dollars over 10 years -- the target amount -- but the health committee bill shows that number is still possible while still providing accept to a public health care option to everybody.

An indication of the direction the committee took is given by the reaction of the reform lobby Health Care for America Now, which strongly backs a public health care option.

The health care reform lobby, Health Care For America Now, which strongly backs a public health care option, is pleased with the direction that the committee has taken.

"The HELP Committee's bill will give Americans all across this country what they want -- a choice of a strong public health insurance option that will provide lower costs and keep the insurance companies honest. The public health insurance option included in the HELP bill will be available on day one, giving Americans a new alternative to the private insurance industry. It will also encourage the delivery of better health care at a lower cost. The public health insurance option, combined with other key sections of the HELP Committee legislation, makes this bill a good prescription for health care reform. More specifically, the bill invests enough resources to make good, affordable health care available to middle-class families and includes strict rules to stop insurance company abuses," said Jacki Schechner, an HCAN spokeswoman, in a statement.

An earlier CBO score had spooked Democrats when came in higher than expected without providing substantially more coverage. And without a public option. The current bill, which does include the public option, is expected to cover to 97 percent of the population within ten years.

"The original numbers were kind of crazy because they increased all the expenses without including any cost control," said economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "That wasn't a serious projection of the costs of the bill. Now this is taking a fuller look."

The cost is relatively small. "As a measure of the share of GDP that's less than four-tenths of one percent (.04) of GDP," he said of the $600 billion estimate. "It's not trivial but it's not huge in the grand scheme of things. The Iraq war was over 1 percent of GDP."

The committee on Wednesday released a set of documents providing background on the bill. The documents and the full bill are below. If you have thoughts on the proposal or anything jumps out at you, write to ryan@huffingtonpost.com.

The bill itself.

A letter from Kennedy and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), to colleagues, outlining the proposal.

A summary of the public option proposal.

Budget estimates.

An outline of employer responsibility, which a senior committee aide said is key to the bill's ability to reduce costs.

Jeff Muskus contributed reporting.

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