Though the congressional debate and legislative sausage-making are far from over, the Senate took a major step Wednesday in putting forth a $849 billion healthcare reform bill.
The bill, launched by Senate majority leader Harry Reid – and vigorously opposed by Republicans – aims to provide health insurance for 94 percent of all Americans, including 31 million people now uninsured.
The measure reportedly would require most Americans to carry health insurance, require large companies to provide coverage for their employees, and prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage because of preexisting medical conditions.
The bill is expected to be paid for by cuts in projected Medicare payments as well as higher payroll tax on families earning more than $250,000 a year.
Senator Reid had previously announced that the bill could include an option for individuals to buy government-sold insurance – a form of “public option” – with states permitted to drop out of the system. That has been a sticking point in House and Senate deliberations, especially for Republicans and some conservative Democrats.
A key subject of debate – in addition to a public option and the impact on the federal deficit – is abortion. The House-passed bill includes the so-called “Stupak amendment” offered by Rep. Bart Stupak (D) of Michigan, which tightens current restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion services.
Newsweek reports that abortion language in the Reid bill is less restrictive than Stupak. But it could well reappear as House-Senate negotiators try to work out their differences in conference committee.
According to the CBO, the House-passed bill, approved on a near-party line vote of 220-215, would cover 96 percent of all Americans at a cost of about $1.2 trillion.
Reid needs to get 60 Senators on board in order to prevent a Republican filibuster. Earlier Wednesday, he met with three moderate Democrats who have expressed concern about the bill: Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas (who faces reelection next year).
The White House has tasked Vice President Joe Biden, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (both former senators), and former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle with working to see that a Senate bill gets passed.
Follow us on Twitter.