House Democrats had opposed the tax for union members, which was part of an early Senate version of the bill. But Obama -- based on a consensus of economists -- favored the tax as a way to encourage workers to take less expensive coverage, thereby driving costs down, the news service said.
Details of the preliminary agreement were not made public, the AP noted.
Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that seeks better health care for all Americans, called word of a pending agreement "very good news."
"It's an embarrassment in the 21st century that people who need medical care can't get it," she said. "We are the only major country without a system for everyone."
Skyrocketing medical costs have hurt increasing numbers of American families, the workforce and the entire health-care system, Davis said. The new bill, which she described as "pragmatic and uniquely American," is a "terrific opportunity to transform the system."
Democrats, explaining the urgency of the health-care negotiations, said more Americans are losing health insurance every day.
"If we do nothing, if, God forbid, this bill crashes and burns, we could have 60 or 80 or 100 million people without insurance," Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) told The New York Times.
As the health-care reform talks dragged on, from summer into winter, public opinion polls showed that American support for the bill began flagging. Democrats have expressed concern that further delays would give Republicans more time to strengthen their offense against the proposed legislation.
The bill's twists and turns through the halls of Congress have led to many alterations, including the loss of a government-run public option -- considered by some to be one of the better ideas for cutting costs.
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