By ERICA WERNER and DAVID ESPO, Associated Press Writers Erica Werner And David Espo, Associated Press Writers – 46 mins ago
WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of senators at work on health care reported progress Thursday in holding the cost of legislation to their $1 trillion target, but Republicans quickly added there was no agreement on even the outlines of a bill.
"We have options that would enable us to write a $1 trillion bill, fully paid for," Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters. His comments came one week after analysts set the cost of earlier proposals at $1.6 trillion over 10 years.
The Montana Democrat provided no details, but others have said the changes made in recent days would lower the cost of government subsidies for those who cannot afford insurance, as well as pare back a planned 10-year series of rate increases for doctors serving Medicare patients.
Aides said the Congressional Budget Office had estimated that the elements under consideration would extend coverage to 97 percent of the population, excluding illegal immigrants.
Baucus' comments coincided with the beginning of a one-week congressional vacation, and came as he and the Obama administration sought to demonstrate progress on the president's top domestic priority. President Barack Obama's goal is to revamp a broken system, reducing costs and providing coverage for nearly 50 million Americans who lack it.
Despite the gains made in lowering costs, Republicans made clear that intense negotiations lie ahead if a bipartisan bill is to emerge.
"We have made no deals, no agreements," said Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.
"We have not seen language (of legislation) in any way shape or form," said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah.
Of the five House and Senate committees working on health care, Finance is the only one that appears to have a chance at producing a bipartisan bill.
Republicans and Democrats remain at odds on major issues, including the question of a government-run option for insurance that would compete with private industry. Obama has endorsed the idea, saying it would hold down costs, while GOP lawmakers oppose it.
Another dispute revolves around the Democrats' call for a requirement on businesses to either provide insurance for their employees or pay into a government fund subsidizing coverage for those who lack it. Many smaller businesses would be exempt, and others would qualify for government subsidies to help them afford coverage, but most Republicans have expressed opposition to a so-called "employer mandate."
At its heart, any legislation is designed to require insurance companies to sell insurance to anyone seeking it. Denial on the grounds of pre-existing medical conditions would be banned, as would higher premiums.