WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate will pass its health care overhaul bill this month, President Barack Obama said Sunday evening.
The Democratic president made his prediction in a taped interview for CBS News's "60 Minutes" program Sunday.
"I think it's going to pass out of the Senate before Christmas," Obama said, meaning that tort reform advocates have limited time to continue pushing for legal reforms in the $848 billion bill drafted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
National polls indicate that voters support legal reforms in the plan opposed by all 40 Republicans in the Senate, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
A Rasmussen Reports survey released this month indicates that 57 percent of voters support damages caps on medical malpractice awards. Forty-seven percent of respondents said tort reform can help reduce health care costs, while 28 percent do not and 25 percent are undecided.
For his part, the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, has said as much as $54 billion could be saved over the next 10 years if Congress enacts legal reforms including a $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering and a $500,000 cap on punitive damages and restricting the statute of limitations on malpractice claims.
Still, Obama said he stands by congressional Democrats' health care efforts, which are aimed at containing costs by changing the way the nation's insurers do business. He said the final health care bill will be landmark.
"I think that when we look back after I signed this bill, people are going to acknowledge that not only was this the most important piece of domestic legislation since at least social security, but it also tackled the biggest problem that we had in terms of our long-term fiscal well-being," Obama said.
He added: "Seven Presidents have tried to reform a health care system that everyone acknowledges is broken. Seven Presidents have failed up until this point. We are now that close to having a bill that does all the things that I said and most experts said needed to be done when we started this process."
The Senate health care plan 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.
It would also require most individuals to purchase health coverage either through their employer, on their own or through a public plan.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would be bankrolled by a bevy of taxes, including a levy on employer-sponsored group health plans with premiums over $8,500 for individual and $23,000 for family coverage. The plan 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 charge annual fees to insurance companies and manufacturers of medical devices and brand-name prescription drugs.
The pending draft Senate 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 House-approved plan championed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the Senate's health care bill will be merged in conference committee before a final bill goes to Obama, who has made health care reform the cornerstone of his domestic policy agenda.