Legislation creating a universal healthcare system that would be based on the existing Medicare program as well as employer-based coverage has been introduced by Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., chairman of the Health Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee.

H.R. 1841, the “AmeriCare Health Care Act,” would provide universal health care for all U.S. residents, with special eligibility for children under the age of 24, pregnant women, and individuals with limited incomes, that is, those who earn less than 300% of the federal poverty limit.

It also sets out standards for supplemental plans with a focus on consumer protection.

One provision would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate discounts for prescription drugs.

“After more than a decade on the back burner, America’s 45 million uninsured are finally receiving the attention they deserve,” Stark said in introducing the bill before Congress went on recess March 30.

“Employers, unions, consumer groups and presidential candidates are all debating not whether our health care system needs reform, but how it should be improved,” Stark said, calling his legislation “a simple proposal that would guarantee quality health care for all, reduce costs and improve quality for people who already have coverage.”

Based on a study conducted this year, Stark estimated the cost of his bill at $154.5 billion. He estimated that, if enacted, the bill would save households $142.6 billion, state and local governments $57.4 billion and private employers $15.2 billion.

As a result, he estimated, its net impact on health care costs would be a $60.7 billion reduction in overall spending.

Under the bill, all eligible beneficiaries would be covered either through their employer or through AmeriCare, a new program modeled on Medicare.

It would be financed through contributions from employers, individuals and states, Stark said.