Health care reform cleared its first major hurdle in Congress Wednesday as the U.S. Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved its bill on a 13-10 party-line vote.
The HELP Committee bill requires businesses with 25 employees or more to offer health insurance or pay $750 a year per full-time worker to the federal government. Individuals would be required to obtain coverage. The bill also would create an insurance exchange, where individuals and small businesses could purchase health insurance. That exchange would include a government-run plan that would compete with private insurers.
President Barack Obama praised the committee’s passage of the bill, saying it would “bring down costs, expand coverage, and increase choice, Bizjournals.com. reports.
Meanwhile, votes were planned Thursday in the Education and Labor and Ways and Means committees on a $1.5 trillion plan that majority House Democrats presented this week. The legislation seeks to provide coverage to nearly all Americans by subsidizing the poor and penalizing individuals and employers who don't purchase health insurance.
A third House committee, Energy and Commerce, also was considering the measure Thursday, but the road was expected to be rougher there. A group of fiscally conservative House Democrats called the Blue Dogs holds more than half-a-dozen seats on the committee — enough to block approval — and is opposing the bill over costs and other issues, The Associated Press reports.
The Senate Finance Committee is still working on its bill, which is to be combined with the health panel’s version for a floor vote in the full Senate. Finance Chairman Max Baucus met yesterday with committee Democrats to try to settle how to pay for the bill and other issues. Finance Committee members are considering a proposal that would raise $100 billion over 10 years by imposing new fees on health insurance companies, a new source of potential financing for a $1 trillion package that’s short on funds, Boston Globe reports.