Republicans demanded an unspecified amount of time to review last-minute changes made by Democrats.
Republicans were expected to delay debate until at least Thursday, when Democrats under Senate rules will need at least 60 votes to end debate and proceed to the bill.
However, even once debate begins, Republicans are expected to offer a range of controversial amendments aimed at scuttling the bill.
Daschle also said the Senate would remain in session until the bill is completed ? including cancellation of the Senate?s week-long break for Fourth of July if necessary.
As the debate begins, business groups launched a multimillion dollar advertising campaign warning that Americans could lose their health coverage due to higher premiums. “Employers beware because there is language in this bill that can bankrupt you,”, according to Senator Don Nickles (R-OK).
On the other hand, Democrats argued that the proposed bill would remove the “near-blanket immunity” enjoyed by HMOs.
They said HMOs should be held accountable in court when they deny patients access to specialists or delay needed services. They also insisted that employers would be protected unless they played a direct role in HMO decision making. Senate Majority Leader Daschle attempted to assuage concerns, noting “Small businesses never make treatment decisions, so they would never be sued.”
A House Republican patients’ bill of rights is expected to be introduced by the end of the week, and House members likely will begin considering the measure the week of June 25, according to reports.