WASHINGTON (CNN) – Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said Tuesday he will focus on health care costs as he offers changes to the compromise health care proposal he unveiled last week.
He made his comments as the committee met to begin considering his plan.
"My colleagues, this is our opportunity to make history. Our actions here this week will determine whether we are courageous and skillful enough to seize the opportunity to change things ... for the better," he said.
"No one should die because they cannot afford health care. This bill would fix that.
"Every 30 seconds another American files for bankruptcy after a serious health problem. Every year about one and a half million families lose their homes to foreclosure because of unaffordable medical costs. No one should go bankrupt because they get sick. This bill would fix that," Baucus said.
Earlier, the Montana Democrat said he wanted to address concerns of fellow Democrats and consider questions by Republicans before the panel starts voting on hundreds of proposed amendments to the $774 billion measure.
The proposal would require all Americans to have health insurance and would tax insurance companies providing the most expensive health insurance - known as "Cadillac" plans - as part of a comprehensive attempt to expand coverage while holding down costs.
A committee aide said Baucus would announce the specifics of changes to his proposal after the lunch break.
Baucus has acknowledged what he called "legitimate concerns" about his proposal and said he would adjust some provisions to make required health insurance more affordable for low- and middle-income Americans.
Senators were delivering opening statements during the morning session of Tuesday's committee hearing, which Baucus predicted would last the rest of the week to deal with more than 560 amendments. A significant number of those amendments were proposed by Democrats looking for ways to make health coverage more affordable.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said the Baucus proposal would cost $774 billion over 10 years, and result in a $28 billion reduction in the federal deficit over that period.
Baucus offered the plan after months of negotiations with three Republicans and two other Democrats on the committee. The "Gang of Six" was
considered the best hope for a health care bill that could attract Republican support. However, none of the three Republicans in the negotiating group have backed the Baucus proposal so far.
Four other health care proposals, all by Democrats, have passed congressional committees - three in the House and one in the Senate.
President Barack Obama has endorsed much of the Baucus proposal and called for both Democrats and opposing Republicans to use the Finance Committee hearing to seek changes they desire.