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Obama's health care plans get boost from auditors

US President Barack Obama's ambitious plans to overhaul the US health care system received a boost yesterday with a report by nonpartisan congressional experts that put 10-year costs in line with his estimates.

One line of attack used by Republicans to aggressively deride Obama's health care plans is that the program is too expensive.

The report also said the legislation, drafted by the Senate Finance Committee, would expand coverage to 94 percent of the eligible population, about 10 percentage points nearer to universal coverage than now.

In all, the plan still would leave around 25 million people uninsured, about one-third of them illegal immigrants who are ineligible under for insurance.

Obama has made overhauling the US health care system his most important domestic issue, staking his presidency on pushing the most sweeping overhaul of the US health care system in a half-century.

The United States spends more on medical care than any other nation but is the only developed country without universal coverage. The private insurance that most Americans have comes through employers, and the Senate's Republican minority has been adamant in rejecting government controls on any part of the overhauled system. Thus the proposal would not require employers to offer health care plans but would force large companies that do not to offset any government subsidies going to those employees.

Principal findings of the CBO report are the expanded coverage, the estimate that the 10-year cost would be US$829 billion rather than more than US$1 trillion that some had feared, and a reduction in the federal debt of US$81 billion over a decade and probably "continued reductions in federal budget deficits" in the years beyond.

The report clears the way for the Senate Finance Committee to vote as early as Friday on the legislation, which is largely in line with Obama's downsized ideas. The plan still must clear the Senate, which will not be easy. In addition strong Republican opposition, some conservative Democrats are less than enthusiastic about it.

Also, the Senate's arcane rules require a three-fifths vote, or 60 senators, to quash delaying tactics that the Republicans are almost certain to mount. All 57 of Obama's Democrats would have to vote for the proposal, as well as two independents who normally vote with them. That still would total 59, which means one Republican would need to go against the party and vote with the Democrats.


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