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US healthcare overhaul debate rages
President Obama faces difficult week as plans meet with fierce political resistance.
Last Modified: 06 Sep 2009 12:46 GMT

Barack Obama is due to address a joint session of congress to boost health care overhaul, a crucial element of his ambitious domestic agenda.

The US president will lay out on Wednesday his plans to overhaul the $2.5 trillion US healthcare system and reduce the estimated 46 million Americans without health insurance.

Before the address, Max Baucus, the senate's chief negotiator on a health care bill and its finance committee chairman, is considering making a formal proposal to a group of senate negotiators called the Bipartisan Six, Democratic aides said on Saturday.

The Bipartisan Six, three Democrats and three Republicans, have struggled to find common ground in advance of their meeting, which is set for Tuesday.

Baucus said on Friday that the members of his group agreed on several items, including the need to control costs, provide access to affordable coverage for all Americans and ensure that healthcare fixes do not add to the deficit.

Slimmed-down bill

The negotiators have been working on a slimmed-down bill that would cost under $1 trillion over 10 years and drop contentious components, such as the government-sponsored insurance plan that liberals insist must be in the legislation.

Their effort may be the last hope for bipartisan healthcare legislation before Democrats are forced to decide whether to move forward without significant Republican support.

The Democratic-led congress has struggled to write healthcare legislation, and most Republicans have fought it.

In the House of Representatives, three committees have approved changes to one bill.

In the senate, the Health, Education, Labour and Pensions Committee has approved its version but Baucus's Finance Committee has failed to produce one.

Republican opposition

With Republican leaders solidly opposed to Obama's approach, the Republican negotiators are under tremendous pressure not to co-operate.

The House bill and the one from the senate health committee call for the creation of a new government-run insurance programme - often called the "public option" - that would compete with private health insurers.

Healthcare facts

 In the US more is spent on healthcare than any other country - over $7,000 per person a year.

 Canada has a publicly funded health care system - cost per head is about half that of the US.

 Mexicans spend about $823 per person.

 China spends about $125 a head, while the cost in Britain is $3,000 - with 95 per cent of the money raised from taxes.

Republicans and insurance companies strongly oppose the idea. However, many liberal Democrats call it an indispensable part of healthcare legislation, saying it is vital to make coverage affordable.

This proposed new programme would be in addition to existing large government insurance programmes such as Medicare for the elderly and disabled and Medicaid for the poor.

The senate finance committee has jurisdiction over major elements of the healthcare legislation effort, including any savings in Medicare and Medicaid and taxes that would help pay for the nearly $1 trillion, 10-year price tag.

Concerns about healthcare legislation escalated in August as representatives met constituents in their home districts during the congressional recess.

Opinion polls have shown Americans increasingly concerned about the cost and complexity of proposals in congress.

John Kline, the House Republican representative, said on Saturday: "It's time to press the 'reset' button on health care reform" to stop "the government takeover that threatens American jobs."

"Democrats have crafted this legislation behind closed doors, creating a partisan blueprint that, at last count, clocked in at more than 1,000 pages," Kline said in a weekly Republican radio address.

"It's complicated, it's convoluted, and it's quite simply not going to work."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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