Monday, December 28, 2009

Senate approves healthcare reform bill, 60-39

In a rare Christmas Eve session, the United States Senate approved its version of the most sweeping reform of the nation’s health care system since the introduction of Medicare in 1965 in a 60-39 party-line vote.

The vote took place in a session called at 7 a.m. to give senators time to return to their districts for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Vice President Joe Biden presided over the vote in his role as president of the Senate.

Among the key provisions of the Senate bill are a mandate that individuals purcU.S. Capitol at night by David Liff, used under a Creative Commons license ( health insurance, a tax on lavish insurance plans – the so-called “Cadillac plans” many union members enjoy – to help fund subsidies for individuals who cannot afford to purchase private insurance, a ban on the practice of denying insurance to individuals with pre-existing conditions, several measures aimed at slowing the growth of health care costs, and two additional provisions designed to make coverage more affordable: the creation of insurance exchanges where individuals may purchase coverage and the opening of the Federal government’s employee health benefits plan to individual participation. The last two provisions are substitutes for the “public option” that liberal activists insist upon.

Many of these same liberal activists have criticized the bill as a gift to the health insurance industry, and the performance of for-profit health insurers’ stocks since the Senate vote that ended a Republican filibuster appears to buttress their criticism. Conservative critics of the bill, including almost all of the Republicans who voted against it, call it an unprecedented and unaffordable intrusion of government into the private sector that will lower the quality of health care in America.

In a news conference after the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the bill’s passage “a huge victory for the American people” and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.)

The next step for the health care reform bill is a House-Senate conference committee that will meet in January to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. While House members are under intense pressure to agree to all or almost all of the Senate bill’s provisions in order to ensure 60 votes for passage of a final bill in the Senate, they also face countervailing pressure from much of the Democratic base to preserve the public health insurance plan contained in their version but not the Senate’s.
If the bill becomes law, it will mark the culmination of a decades-long quest for universal health insurance, a goal of Democrats since President Harry Truman first proposed a national health insurance plan in 1948. The larger issue of universal health insurance was first raised by former President Theodore Roosevelt, who made it part of his quest to regain the office he held as the Progressive Party’s 1912 candidate for president.

The last time the Senate met on Christmas Eve was in 1917, when the body debated America’s entry into World War I. The Senate will convene again on Jan. 18.

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