Senate Approves Health Care Bill
The New York Times reports that the Senate approved health overhaul legislation Thursday morning in a 60-39 vote. "The bill would require most Americans to have health insurance, would add 15 million people to the Medicaid rolls and would subsidize private coverage for low- and middle-income people, at a cost to the government of $871 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office."
"After struggling for years to expand health insurance in modest, incremental ways, Democrats decided this year that they could not let another opportunity slip away." While the bill will cover 31 million otherwise uninsured people, by 2019, another 23 million uninsured will remain.
The Wall Street Journal: The bill "would deliver on a long-promised Democratic goal of extending coverage to nearly every American, and would represent the biggest expansion of the federal safety net since the 1965 creation of Medicare, the health-insurance program for the elderly and disabled." And, in Republicans view, it "would impose massive regulatory and financial burdens on taxpayers and businesses, and would dig the government even deeper in debt."
The Senate's vote puts President Barack Obama "on the verge of creating a near-universal health-insurance system, an accomplishment that has eluded presidents since Theodore Roosevelt." However, the Senate's version of the bill will need to be reconciled with a House version passed earlier, and a compromise is not expected until January at the earliest (Hitt and Adamy, 12/24).
The Journal reports in a separate story that, while many parts of the bill would not take effect for several years, "a slate of provisions designed to be immediately visible to consumers would kick in six months after the bill takes effect." Those provisions would prevent insurers from limiting the amount of money they spend on an single individual over their lifetime; similar, annual caps would also be limited; and, preventive care would be fully covered without copays. But, these changes would only affect people with individual coverage. Employer-sponsored group plans which insure most Americans "will be grandfathered in and won't have to adopt such changes" (Adamy, 12/24).
ABC News: In a short statement at the White House before leaving for a holiday vacation in Hawaii, Obama praised the Senate vote, calling the provisions "big reforms. If passed, this will be the most important piece of social legislation since the Social Security Act passed in the 1930's," he said. "The president also hailed the legislation as the 'largest deficit reduction plan in over a decade'" (Khan, 12/24).
The Hill reports that the bill was approved "by the narrowest of partisan margins. ... The 60 to 39 tally split directly along partisan lines, underscoring not only the great divide between Democrats and Republicans but also the deftness with which Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) at long last united his fractious caucus by offering key compromises to centrists but keeping liberals in the fold. The Senate capped off a nearly month-long floor debate with its near-record 25th consecutive day in session by holding a vote on Christmas Eve for the first time since debating the Vietnam war in 1963."
The Hill also notes, "Unity was not the sole province of Democrats, however, as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) kept his flock together throughout most of the year with one notable exception -- in opposition to a bill he often calling a 'monstrosity.' In the end, Obama and Reid were denied the one Republican who appeared attainable: Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine)," who had voted for the bill in the Finance Committee (Young, 12/24).
This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.