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Kennedy, Dodd unveil trimmer Senate healthcare bill

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
Associated Press / July 3, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Americans who refuse to buy medical coverage could be hit with fines of more than $1,000 under a healthcare overhaul bill unveiled yesterday by key Senate Democrats looking to fulfill President Obama’s top domestic priority.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the fines would raise around $36 billion over 10 years. Senate aides said the penalties would be modeled on the approach taken by Massachusetts, which imposes a fine of about $1,000 a year on individuals who refuse to get coverage. Under the federal legislation, families would pay higher penalties than individuals.

People would be required to carry health insurance just like motorists must get auto coverage now, and the government would provide subsidies for the poor and many middle-class families. But those who still refuse to sign up would face penalties, called “shared responsibility payments,’’ set at least at half the cost of basic medical coverage, according to the legislation.

As in Massachusetts, the legislation would exempt certain hardship cases from fines.

The revised plan from the Senate health committee also calls for a government-run insurance option to compete with private plans, as well as a $750 annual fee on employers for each full-time worker not offered coverage through their job and $375 for each part-time worker. Companies with fewer than 25 employees would be exempt. The fee was forecast to generate $52 billion over 10 years.

In a letter outlining the details, Senators Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut said their revised plan would cost dramatically less than an earlier, incomplete proposal and eventually help expand coverage to 97 percent of all Americans.

The two senators said the Congressional Budget Office put the cost of the proposal at $611.4 billion over 10 years, down from $1 trillion two weeks ago.

In a statement, Obama welcomed the revised legislation.

The health committee could meet as soon as next week to complete its version of the bill, and the presence of a government insurance option virtually assures a party-line vote.