Healthcare Reform Will Cut Deficit by $138 Billion, Says Budget Office

Democrats in the House of Representatives Thursday predicted weekend passage of a sweeping healthcare overhaul that budget analysts said would hit President Barack Obama’s fiscal targets and cut the U.S. deficit over 10 years.

House Democratic leaders finished work on a package of changes to Obama’s top domestic priority that the Congressional Budget Office estimated would expand insurance coverage at a cost of $940 billion over 10 years but cut the deficit by $138 billion in the same period.

At the White House, Obama said the healthcare bill represented “the most significant effort to reduce deficits since the Balanced Budget Act in the 1990s.”

After weeks of wrangling over the package to make the numbers come out favorably, House leaders presented the final changes to Democrats at a morning caucus and will post them online later Thursday.

“It took some time but we are very pleased,” House Nancy Pelosi told reporters after the meeting. “There are even more savings than the Senate bill.”

The changes are meant to ease concerns of Obama and House Democrats about the Senate’s version of the bill, which had a budget savings of $118 billion over the first 10 years.

The changes include expanding subsidies to make insurance more affordable and more state aid for the Medicaid program for the poor.

They also would eliminate a controversial Senate deal exempting Nebraska from paying for Medicaid expansion costs, close a “doughnut hole” in prescription drug coverage and change the threshold on a tax on high-cost “Cadillac” insurance plans.

“I don’t think I’d call it a Cadillac tax now,” said Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “I’d call it a Rolls Royce.”

The overhaul would extend coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans and ban insurance practices like refusing coverage to those with pre-existing medical conditions.

Democrats said they expected to put together the 216 votes needed for passage of the bill. The final vote, which is likely to be close, is now expected Sunday.

Under the procedure planned for passing the overhaul, the House would vote this weekend on whether to approve the Senate’s bill. The changes sought by Obama and House Democrats would move in a second separate bill.

“I think we’ll see a lot of people’s votes come together in the next few days,” Representative Robert Andrews said.