Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)

Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.)

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's plan to overhaul the nation's health care system received a chilly reception from Republicans who decried the proposal as a bundle of tax increases and new responsibilities for cash-strapped states without enacting legal reforms.

The Senate Democratic leadership is aiming for a vote Saturday on whether to take up the legislation, which would expand insurance coverage to some-31 million uninsured Americans and bar insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions, among other things.

"This is about the woman with high cholesterol, or the man with heart disease, or the child with hay fever who can't get help," said Reid, D-Nev. "That's why we're stopping insurance companies from deciding they'd simply rather not give health care to the sick."

To move his plan forward, 60 senators must vote to begin debate on the 2,074-page bill that would require most individuals to purchase health coverage either through their employer, on their own or through a public plan.

All but three Senate Democrats - moderates Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana - are expected to support the procedural vote.

Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that the Senate health care floor debate is "going to be a holy war."

"This is a lousy bill that is going to cost American taxpayers like mad for the rest of our lives," Hatch said Thursday in an appearance on the Fox News Channel.

Associated Builders and Contractors President and CEO Kirk Pickerel said Thursday that the Senate plan falls woefully short.

"To truly reform the health care system, Congress must explore every means available to help reduce costs on the American public, including medical malpractice tort reform," Pickerel said in a statement.

An Associated Press poll released Thursday indicates that 54 percent of Americans say they would like to see it more difficult to sue hospitals and doctors over alleged medical malpractice.

Reid's plan would be bankrolled with a tax on employer-sponsored group health plans with premiums over $8,500 for individual and $23,000 for family coverage.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act also calls for a 5.4 percent surtax on adjusted gross personal income exceeding $1 million for couples and $500,000 for individuals.

Reid also wants to collect a new 5 percent tax on elective cosmetic medical procedures -- the so-called botox tax -- as well as charge new annual fees to insurance companies and manufacturers of medical devices and brand-name prescription drugs.

The Reid plan would increase Medicare payroll taxes by one-half percent -- to 1.95 percent -- for individuals earning more than $200,000 or couples earning more than $250,000.

The $1 trillion House plan, meanwhile, would extend coverage to about 36 million uninsured Americans, bar insurers from denying coverage and prohibit the insurance industry from charging higher premiums to consumers with a preexisting condition.

Both the Senate and House bills contain a public insurance option, which proponents say is aimed at injecting more competition into the marketplace. Under the Senate plan, states would have the ability to opt out of the public option.

The Congressional Budget Office has said the Reid plan would reduce federal deficits by $130 billion over the next decade.

To help cut federal health care spending, the legislation calls for the creation of an Independent Medicare Advisory Board that would recommend steps to curtail growth of the program that provides health care benefits to millions of older- and disabled Americans.

To pay for the coverage expansion under the House bill, that chamber's legislation calls for, among other things, a 5.4 percent surtax on individuals making more than $500,000 a year or families earning more than $1 million and a 2.5 percent excise tax on medical services or devices.

The taxes would raise an estimated $460 billion over 10 years.

"Higher premiums, tax increases and Medicare cuts to pay for more government. The American people know that is not reform," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

A key difference between the Senate and House plans is when important provisions will take effect such as when people would have to have insurance coverage or employers would be required to pay for policies.

Most of the House bill would take effect in 2013, while the Senate bill calls for provisions to take effect a year later.

The expansive House-approved plan championed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the bill that is expected to be passed in the Senate will be merged in conference committee before a final bill goes to President Barack Obama, who has made health care reform the cornerstone of his domestic policy agenda.

A group of Republican state governors said this week that they are concerned congressional efforts to change the way the nation's health insurers do business will mean cost shifts to the states, negatively impacting their already-stretched budgets.

The Senate bill, critics say, would significantly expand the Medicaid program for the poor, and foist some of the additional costs on the states after three years.

"We're concerned about the federal government overreaching and trampling the prerogative of states across this great country," Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Thursday. "At a time when state budgets that are tighter than ever, that's not only going to be burdensome. But also from a policy direction, it heads our country in the wrong direction."

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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