Friday, October 9, 2009
US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that the Senate Finance Committee will vote on a sweeping health care reform bill next Tuesday. US President Barack Obama has made clear that extending health insurance coverage to as many Americans as possible is his top domestic priority.
Republican lawmakers, however, are still overwhelmingly opposed to the bill, saying it is too expensive and would expand the role of government in people’s health care.
Obama and his fellow Democrats in the Senate received some good news late Wednesday from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which put the total cost of the Senate Finance Committee’s health care bill at $829 billion over the next decade, below Obama’s stated goal of $900 billion. The budget watchdog organization also said the health care bill would help reduce the federal budget deficit over the next ten years.
Harry Reid said he believed health care reform was moving forward. “And so today we stand closer than ever to fulfilling that fundamental promise, one for which we have fought for more than 60 years,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, however said that the cost estimate was “irrelevant”, because the final bill that will actually emerge from both houses of Congress is likely to look very different and cost a lot more. “What matters is that the final bill will cost about a trillion dollars, vastly expand the role of government in people’s health care decisions, increase premiums and limit choice,” McConnell said.
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McConnell said Republicans favor a step by step approach to health care reform, focusing on prevention and wellness programs and dealing with the high costs of malpractice insurance doctors have to pay due to fears of excessive lawsuits.
Under the Finance Committee’s bill, US residents would be required to get health insurance or face a penalty, and insurance companies would face tough new regulations. For example, insurance companies could no longer reject coverage for people due to pre-existing conditions.
The Senate Finance Committee is likely to pass the bill, which will then have to be merged with one passed by the Senate health committee before it goes to the full Senate floor for debate.