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Health reform 101: what is in the bills

For all those who don't have time to read the thousands of pages of proposed legislation, or listen to hours of C-Span debate, here is a quick summary.

One version of the health reform legislation sat on the desk of Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California late last month.

Susan Walsh/AP

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President Obama's attempt to reform the US healthcare system is one of the most ambitious and complicated legislative efforts Washington has seen in decades. At the same time, the national debate over the effort has become so loud and confusing that ordinary voters may have trouble figuring out what's really going on.

With members of Congress on break, now may be a good time to try to sort out fact from assumption. So for all those who don't have time to read the thousands of pages of proposed legislation, or listen to hours of C-Span debate, here is a quick summary of the legislative basics:

Health insurance: You'd have to have it. Perhaps the centerpiece of both House and Senate efforts is a requirement that individuals obtain health insurance, or pay a penalty to the government. The analogy is inexact, but health insurance might become more like auto insurance: something you are supposed to have to participate in national society.

For those who have coverage now, this would be no big deal. But for some segments of the population, it could force a radical change in behavior. So all you twenty-somethings who have long figured you don't need health insurance, take note: That approach might be out the window.
But the Feds might help you pay for it. Health insurance is expensive, so if the government is going to require that you buy it, Washington should subsidize those who cannot afford it. That is the thinking behind the subsidy portion of the effort.

Both House and Senate efforts contain subsidy provisions. The House bill would help support housholds earning up to 400 percent of the poverty level, or about $88,000. That cap may end up being lower in the Senate version of the legislation, to help pare the bill's cost.

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