One Democratic member of the Senate Finance Committee acknowledged Wednesday that the provision in Chairman Max Baucus' (D-Mont.) bill to tax some insurance plans and medical devices could become a tax on consumers.
"My hope is that the competition, those market forces, will compel them not to pass along all of the [tax to consumers], perhaps a portion of it," Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.) told CNBC. "Some may, some may not."
The surtax -- a 35 percent fee on expensive insurance plans and an annual fee on medical device manufacturers -- has become a major point of debate in the Senate Finance Committee's healthcare reform process. Baucus and his Democratic allies in the Gang of Six view it as an important way to raise revenue and offset the bill's $856 billion price tag. But Republicans want it stripped from the final bill. A number of lawmakers on both sides fear the tax -- levied on companies, not individuals -- could quickly become a fee on consumers.
Carper on Wednesday admitted this was possible, but he also listed a number of additional sources from which the taxed companies could find the required revenue.
"It could come out of the shareholders of the company, it could come out of the company's retained earnings, it could come out of those who are using a particular service, it could also maybe help us to use services more wisely," he said, adding, "we have an incredibly over utilization of particularly technology."
Nevertheless, the Delaware senator expressed confidence on Wednesday that more lawmakers would approve of the bill as they became more acquainted with its contents.
"I hope as we go through the amendment process that some folks really get to know the legislation better, feel it better, particularly people around the country who are interested in this -- business groups, medical providers and others -- patients, seniors," Carper said, noting markup would begin next week. "As they get to know the bill a little bit better, I think the comfort level will rise, and I think it increases the likelihood that some of our Republican colleagues will join us."