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KAI RYSSDAL: The man still has two months to go until he officially gets the job, but Barack Obama’s plate is already overflowing. Just for starters there’s an economic crisis to figure out. He’s promised to start ending the war in Iraq. And he campaigned in part on a plan to provide affordable health care.
Unions, businesses and consumer groups like the AARP have all called for widespread reforms. What nobody’s has seemed to figure out yet, though, is how to pay for it. Today the chairman of one of the Senate’s most powerful committees laid down his marker.
As Marketplace’s Steve Henn reports from Washington.
STEVE HENN: Democrat Max Baucus runs the Senate Finance Committee. It’s in charge of setting tax rates and paying for big government programs like Medicaid and Medicare. In the midst of an economic crisis, just eight days after the election, his first priority is health-care reform.
MAX BAUCUS: Time is of the essence. The problem is so great. The earlier we start, the better. Failure to act also is such a cost to the economy.
In some ways, Baucus’s plan is similar to President-elect Obama’s. It would guarantee Americans insurance if they have a pre-existing condition. But it would also require every American to buy insurance. And some workers with gold-plated policies might have to pay income tax on their health-care benefits. Obama’s plan would include no such taxes, and it would make health-care coverage more affordable but not mandatory.
Still, the reaction among health reform advocates was overwhelmingly positive.
RON POLLUCK: I think this is our best chance in terms of getting meaningful health-care reform.
Ron Polluck is president of Families USA.
POLLUCK: You’ve got the two leading chairmen in the Senate saying this is their top priority. You’ve got the interest groups sitting down together to find common ground. And you’ve got the business community, which is saying, “We need this.”
The one thing you don’t have, at least yet, is a price tag.
Baucus’s proposal would expand Medicare and Medicaid, and require big government investments in technology, as well as subsidizing low-income Americans’ insurance. Those reforms just might save money in the long run, but paying for them now will be tough.
In Washington, I’m Steve Henn for Marketplace.
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