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Health bill would cost US $1 trillion, says budget office (MS)

WASHINGTON – A leading healthcare bill under consideration in Congress would cost the government an estimated $1 trillion over the next decade and reduce the ranks of the uninsured by about one-third, or 16 million individuals, congressional budget officials said in a preliminary estimate yesterday.

In a letter to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, the director of the Congressional Budget Office said the estimate was based on major provisions contained in an incomplete draft of the bill.

Douglas W. Elmendorf pointed out that "taking all of its provisions into account could change our assessment of the proposal’s effects on the budget and insurance coverage rates, though probably not by substantial amounts relative to the net costs already identified."

The Budget Office released its preliminary estimate as several congressional committees looked ahead to votes on legislation that President Obama has made his top domestic priorities and as the president appealed to the nation’s doctors for support.

The letter was the first from the independent agency on any of the major bills circulating in Congress.

Kennedy – chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee – is one of the driving forces in Congress behind healthcare overhaul, even though he remains away from the Capitol battling brain cancer.

A spokesman, Anthony Coley, said: "As the CBO letter indicates, this is an incomplete statement of an incomplete bill. We look forward to a complete CBO estimate of a complete bill."

The Budget Office letter predicted that many Americans would gain coverage if Kennedy’s legislation is implemented, while others would lose it.

"Once the proposal was fully implemented, about 39 million individuals would obtain coverage through the new insurance exchanges," it said. "At the same time, the number of people who had coverage through an employer would decline by about 15 million . . . and coverage from other sources would fall by about 8 million.

"The net decrease in the number of people uninsured would be about 16 million," Elmendorf wrote.