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Weighing the costs of health care

Senate Banking Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), talks about health care reform as Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), listens in Washington, D.C.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL:House Democrats unveiled their version of how to fix the health care system today. That'd make it the third or maybe it's the fifth major plan floating around Capitol Hill. It's easy to lose track. What is not so easy to miss though are the price tags the plans carry. For all the talk of reform in Washington lately, the Congressional Budget Office made it clear earlier this week that the talk is not going to be cheap and the coverage everybody's talking is not going to be enough.
Tamara Keith explains.


Tamara Keith: The discussion on Capitol Hill has focused almost entirely on health insurance: How to cover the millions who are now uninsured, whether to require employers to provide it, whether to create a new government insurance plan.

Charles Rangel of New York staked out the position of House Democrats this afternoon.

Charles Rangel: Is this going to bring down the cost of health insurance? You bet your sweet life. I can't wait to talk to talk to anybody that's fighting against this public health insurance programs.

But you haven't heard much from Capitol Hill about health care this week. Most the talk has been about how expensive insurance is and not about why health care costs so much.

This is surprising because cutting the cost of medical care is a priority for the Obama administration. A recent New Yorker article has been required reading at the White House. It explores the reasons health spending in one Texas city, McAllen, is higher than almost anywhere else, and people there aren't any healthier.

Peter Orzag is Obama's budget director.

Peter Orzag: The package overall must also include a series of steps that will help to address the McAllen problem.

Those steps include things like changing the way hospitals and doctors are paid, rewarding quality of care rather than quantity. Orzag says legislation can address these issues within Medicare, which influences the entire industry.

Orzag: They are the most auspicious set of proposals that we have to get towards a health care system that in which best practices aren't occurring only in isolated parts of the U.S., but are instead occurring throughout the U.S.

In Washington, I'm Tamara Keith for Marketplace.

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