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Kennedy committee releases health plan

From NBC's Ken Strickland
Details on some of the most contentious elements of health-care reform were released today by one of Senate committees drafting the bill. 

The Senate Health Committee unveiled its plan for a public/government insurance program to compete with private insurers. And it also detailed the "play or pay" provision that would require companies to provide insurance coverage to their employees or pay fees to the government.

Today's announcement, while significant, provides only a few new pieces in what has become a giant health-care reform puzzle. Several outstanding issues remain -- chief among them total cost of reform and how you pay for that cost. Votes are at least weeks away, and bipartisanship on major elements remain elusive.

Here are the outlines of what the committee released today. (This is the committee chaired by Ted Kennedy, but temporarily run by Chris Dodd.)

Video: As President Obama pushed hard again on Wednesday to overhaul America's health care system, battle lines were being drawn over how he'll pay for a government insurance plan without raising taxes. NBC's Savannah Guthrie reports.

The Public Option (officially called "Community Health Insurance Option")
-- run by the Department of Health and Human Services
-- government loans provide start-up cost, but would eventually become self financed through premium payments
-- would follow the same rules as private insurance for things like defining benefits, consumer protections, and setting premiums "that are fair and based on local cost"
-- doctors would not be under obligation to participate in the public option
-- doctors payment rates -- negotiated by HHS Secretary -- would be "no more than the local average private rates, but could be less."

Employer Play or Pay: ("Shared Responsibility of Employers")
-- companies that do not offer "adequate coverage" to full time workers would pay an annual fee of $750 per employee
-- companies that do not offer coverage for part-time workers pay $375 per employee
-- firms with less that 25 employees would be exempt from fees
-- companies most cover 60% of the cost of the monthly premiums to avoid fees

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost of the committee's bill at $611 billion over 10 years. (But because the Senate Finance Committee holds exclusive jurisdiction of other areas of health-care reform -- like Medicaid expansion -- that cost estimate is incomplete.) The panel also cites CBO figures that show 97% of American would have insurance coverage.