Health Reform Bill Okayed by U.S. Senate

December 24, 2009 ( U.S. Senate approved a landmark health-care reform measure early Thursday morning under which most Americans must obtain coverage either from their employer or through government-regulated insurance exchanges.

The bill that passed on a 60 to 39 party-line final tally in a vote that started at 7 a.m. now must be reconciled with a U.S. House version by a House-Senate conference committee that will begin its work after the holiday recess, the Washington Post reported.

The Post said the Senate measure requires individuals to buy insurance or pay a penalty that would be the greater of $750 or 2% of income by 2016. It does not mandate employers to provide coverage. However, if even one employee receives a subsidy through the new exchanges, firms with more than 50 employees would have to pay a fine equal to $750 for every person on their payroll.

On the other hand, the House version requires individuals to purchase insurance or pay a penalty of 2.5% of income. The House bill also forces employers to pay 65% of family premiums or pay a penalty based on payroll. Small businesses with less than $500,000 on payroll are exempt and payrolls up to $750,000 would have a reduced contribution.

Despite the pending Congressional negotiations, the Post said, Democrats are increasingly confident that President Barack Obama will be able to sign a reform package into law in early 2010 that would includes mandates against insurers refusing coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. The bill would limit how much individuals have to pay for their own care and require other industry reforms.

Those who can’t afford insurance plans would receive federal subsidies under the plan and Medicaid would be vastly expanded to reach millions of low-income children and adults.

“We stand here at the finish line . . . with millions of American families who have been forced into bankruptcy over the cost of health care . . . on behalf of 45,000 Americans who die each year simply because they don’t have health insurance,” said Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), after the vote, according to the Post. “Today, we make history for them and every American who has fallen victim to our broken health-care system.”

On the Republican side, lawmakers promised to continue battling against what they see as unacceptable level of government intrusion that is also too costly. “This bill is a real threat to liberty because of the precedent that it sets on the federal government being able to tell individuals what to do,” said Senator John Ensign (R-Nevada), the Post reported.

“This fight is not over. This fight is long from over,” promised Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). “My colleagues and I will work to stop this bill from becoming law.”