DANBURY -- U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd has been in the thick of the health care debate that boiled, simmered, and boiled again in the United States for a year.

But on Friday, speaking at Danbury Hospital, Dodd predicted the end result will be that Congress will pass a comprehensive health care bill.

"It's something everyone cares about,'' Dodd said before taking a tour of the hospital. "Unfortunately, the process got so involved with ideological stuff.''

Dodd has been one of the Senate leaders on the reform bill. On Thursday, he was one of the Democrats who attended a six-hour health care summit run by President Barack Obama at Blair House in Washington D.C.

Dodd, who decided against running for a sixth term in office this year, said the event did help by clarifying the issues that separate Democrats and Republicans. But he acknowledged it did little to bridge the gap between the two parties.

"I didn't expect that everyone would walk out holding hands and singing `Kumbaya,' " Dodd said.

Dodd admitted Friday that he's not enamored of using the Senate reconciliation process to pass health care reform -- a legislative move that allows the majority party to pass bills with a 51-vote majority.

But he also said the Senate has used the reconciliation process more than 22 times in past years to get difficult bills passed, including the legislation that created COBRA, which allows people who leave a job to buy health insurance from their old employers, and SCHIP, the national health insurance program for children. During the Clinton Administration, Republicans used the reconciliation process to pass welfare reform.

And, he said, the cost of simply doing nothing -- of not passing

legislation -- would create a far greater burden on the American people.

Currently, Dodd said, the United States spends 17 percent of its gross domestic product on health care.

"That's 10 percent more than our closest competitor,'' he said. "The cost of health care insurance has risen from $6,000 to $12,000 and it's heading for $20,000.''

That cost, he said, is driving employers to simply stop offering health insurance to employees. In turn, those employees don't get routine health care because the out-of-pocket costs are too expensive. Then, when someone gets catastrophically ill -- often the result of letting a common illness develop into something expensive -- the cost of treatment can lead to bankruptcy.

Dodd pointed to himself as a case in point. As a federal employee, he has good health insurance.

"I'm in a group with 8 million people,'' he said. "The local postmaster gets the same insurance as I do.''

Because that insurance pays for annual check-up, Dodd was able to learn in July that he had prostate cancer. He had the cancer removed surgically.

"But 30,000 men a year die from prostate cancer,'' he said. "Not everyone is getting an early diagnosis."

Contact Robert Miller

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