November 27, 2009

US Senate unveils $849 bn health care reform bill

A sweeping health care reform bill backed by President Barack Obama that promises to expand insurance coverage to 31 million more Americans at a whopping cost of $849 billion over a decade was unveiled today and is now set for a key test vote in the US Senate.

"We have travelled a long way to where we are, and (now) begins the last leg of this journey," Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said while unveiling the 2,074-page Senate bill.

"The finish line is really in sight," Reid said as the Senate is expected to vote on the bill as early as Saturday.

Obama, who has made health care overhaul his top domestic priority, hailed the new legislation as "a critical milestone" that brought the United States "closer than ever" to a better health care system.

"From day one, our goal has been to enact legislation that offers stability and security to those who have insurance and affordable coverage to those who don't, and that lowers costs for families, businesses and governments across the country," Obama said in a statement, adding that the Senate proposal "meets those principles."

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has determined that the Senate bill would cut federal deficits by $130 billion over the next decade.

The proposal drafted from two separate bills approved by Senate committees now goes to the full Senate, where Republicans have vowed to try to block it.

Democrats on paper have the 60 votes needed to win on a procedural vote to formally launch the debate in the 100-member Senate. However, they must keep two independents and a handful of waverers in their own party to do so.

The House of Representatives approved its own trillion dollar version of the legislation on November 7 by a 220-215 margin after imposing tough restrictions on federal funds subsidising abortions.

The US is the world's richest but the only industrialised country that does not ensure that all of its 350 million citizens have health care coverage. It is estimated that some 36 million Americans do not have health insurance.

Officials say the legislation would require most Americans to carry health insurance and would mandate large firms to provide coverage to their workers. It also bans insurance company practices such as denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions.

The Senate bill includes a range of tax increases and new fees. The Medicare payroll tax on individuals earning $200,000 a year and couples earning $250,000 a year would increase by half a percentage point, from the current 1.45 per cent to 1.95 per cent, CNN reported.

The bill would require individuals to purchase health insurance, with a fine for non-compliance of $95 in the first year that would escalate to $750 by 2016. Parents would be responsible for providing coverage for their children up to 18 years old, CNN said.

If the Senate manages to pass a bill, a congressional conference committee would need to merge the House and Senate proposals into a consensus version requiring final approval from each chamber before moving to Obama's desk to be signed into law.

Link: Original Article

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