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Obama health plan revived

UNITED States President Barack Obama's drive to overhaul the country's health care system may be back on track thanks to Senate efforts to cut the price tag to US$1 trillion, but a bipartisan deal on the sweeping proposal is far from certain.

Obama wants changes that rein in the escalating costs of health care and to bring insurance to most of the 46 million Americans who now lack it.

He also wants a bill that the Democrats who control Congress and the Republican minority can support to give a bipartisan stamp of approval to his top legislative priority.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus was upbeat last week after announcing that panel members had found ways to bring the price tag to about US$1 trillion over 10 years, down from an earlier estimate of US$1.6 trillion.

The new estimates helped move lawmakers closer to an agreement, Baucus said. But he was unable to close the deal with Republicans before senators left for a weeklong July 4 Independence Day holiday recess.

Instead, the core group of negotiators - three Democrats and four Republicans - issued a tepid statement on Thursday merely affirming their commitment to continue negotiations.

"As we have been for the last several weeks, we are committed to continuing our work toward a bipartisan bill that will lower costs and ensure quality, affordable care for every American," said the group, which includes Baucus and Senator Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the panel.

Soaring health care costs hurt businesses, strain state and federal budgets and drive many Americans into bankruptcy.

The US has the world's most expensive health care system. Americans get coverage either through private insurance provided by employers or bought by individuals, or through government-run programs for the elderly, poor and others.

But millions remain uninsured.


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