Wall Street Journal- Baucus Crafts Health Care Plan, But Senate Democrats Have Concerns | Friends of Cancer Research

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Wall Street Journal- Baucus Crafts Health Care Plan, But Senate Democrats Have Concerns

By GREG HITT and JONATHAN WEISMAN , Some rank-and-file Senate Democrats are voicing concerns about sweeping health legislation being crafted

by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus,   citing what they describe as excessive burdens placed on some families and concerns over financing for the $880 billion package.

The Montana Democrat intends to introduce the package Wednesday, setting the stage for Finance Committee action next week. "We're on track," Sen. Baucus said Monday.

The senator has worked for months to craft a bill capable of attracting bipartisan support. His legislation would expand coverage to tens of millions of Americans but leave out a public health-insurance option supported by liberals.

Sen. Baucus has argued that steering the legislation toward the political center is the best strategy for ensuring passage on the Senate floor. But several Senate Democrats left a briefing with the chairman Monday night saying they would seek changes.

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Sen. Max Baucus

Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) complained the legislation would ask working Americans to commit as much as 13% of their income to buy basic insurance. "Additional steps are going to have to be taken to make coverage more affordable," he said. "That's a real hit on middle-class families."

Under the legislation, which has yet to be formally unveiled, individuals would be required to have health insurance, and would receive government assistance if they are at the lower end of the income ladder. But Sen. Wyden said more needs to be done to lower out-of-pocket expenses. "I'll certainly be offering ideas," he said.

Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) raised concerns about Mr. Baucus's mix of new taxes and other means of paying for the plan. Among other things, Mr. Baucus is proposing to levy a new tax on so-called gold-plated health policies. He also wants to levy new fees on health insurers, pharmaceutical companies and other health-care industries.

"There may be a better way to find that revenue," Sen. Kerry said. He suggested he'll be looking for changes, though he declined to offer specifics. "We are going to have a tug of war," he said, describing the chairman's soon-to-be-unveiled bill as a "starting point" for a new round of negotiations on details. "That's the process of legislating," he said.

Sen. Baucus said he fully expects amendments to be offered next week, but downplayed the prospect that major conflict looms. "I don't see any deal breakers...or anything that would change the basic framework" of the bill, he said.

Sen. Baucus is also trying to reassure the nation's governors that the measure wouldn't break the budgets of cash-strapped states. A key feature of the senator's bill would expand health-insurance coverage to millions of Americans by widening access to Medicaid, the federal-state health program for the poor. Many governors have voiced concern that local taxpayers would have to pay for the proposed expansion.

"Governors are concerned," Sen. Baucus said Monday, but the costs for states under his bill would be "much less than originally expected."

Mr. Baucus is expected to convene a conference call with the National Governors Association's health-care task force as soon as Tuesday to discuss his legislation.