07/24/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Senate Dems Waiting For Cost Estimates Before Moving On Health Care

Two reports from congressional accountants, with estimates that put the cost of health care reform higher than expected and the numbers of people covered lower than expected, have caused Senate Democrats to shift their approach and consider other options as they pursue a health care package.

Democrats in the Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committees had sent partial plans to the Congressional Budget Office that did not include a public health insurance option, which accounted for the smaller number of insured. The rest of the package, without the public option in place to lower costs, came out with a trillion dollar price tag -- a magical number that senators don't want to breach.

So this time around, said Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who is leading the effort in the HELP Committee in the absence of its chairman, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), they'll use the budget estimate to guide the policy, rather than the other way around.

Dodd declined Tuesday, in a briefing before the eighth committee hearing on the legislation, to say when he would fill in the many pages that still remain blank on the health care bill. He said the committee could end up working through Thursday night if necessary.

"There are various variations of proposals and getting CBO numbers on the variations is what we're trying to do. I know the Finance Committee is doing the same," said Dodd. "Obviously the numbers we received earlier week had some sticker shock for us all."

Dodd said he still backs a public option. But he wants to make sure that it doesn't get sticker-shocked to death.

"We're trying to fashion how to bring those costs down. The accessibility, the affordability, the quality of healthcare are the three principle goals we all share and we don't want to complete our process and find that over the next decade we can not bend that [cost] curve downward," he said.

Dodd said that the committee is asking CBO for estimates "for a number of options" and telling the office to "run the numbers on those options."

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