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National News

September 8, 2009

Fines proposed for going without health insurance

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans would be fined up to $3,800 for failing to buy health insurance under a plan that circulated in Congress on Tuesday as President Barack Obama met Democratic leaders to search for ways to salvage his health care overhaul.

In advance of what Obama hopes will be a game-changing speech to lawmakers, the one idea that most appeals to the Democrats' liberal base lost ground in Congress. Prospects for a government-run plan to compete with private insurers sank as a leading moderate said he could no longer support the idea.

The fast-moving developments put Obama in a box. As a candidate, he opposed fines to force individuals to buy health insurance, and he supported setting up a government insurance plan.

Democratic leaders put on a bold front as they left the White House after their meeting with the president.

"We're re-energized; we're ready to do health care reform," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., insisted the public plan is still politically viable. "I believe that a public option will be essential to our passing a bill in the House of Representatives," she said.

After a month of contentious forums, Americans were seeking specifics from the president in his speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night. So were his fellow Democrats, divided on how best to solve the problem of the nation's nearly 50 million uninsured.

The latest proposal: a bipartisan compromise that Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., a moderate who heads the influential Finance Committee, was trying to broker.

Baucus, meeting with a small group of fellow senators, promoted a plan that would guarantee coverage for nearly all Americans at a cost to taxpayers of under $900 billion over 10 years.

Some experts consider that a relative bargain because the country now spends about $2.5 trillion a year on health care. But it would require hefty fees on insurers, drug companies and others in the health care industry to help pay for it.

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