Christmas Eve Vote by Senate Moves Healthcare Changes Forward

After the New Year the real work begins as the House and Senate bills are reconciled.

Published on: Dec 24, 2009

As promised the U.S. Senate approved a sweeping healthcare overhaul bill this morning, in its first Christmas Eve vote 114 years. The bill passed on a 60 to 39 vote and aims to deliver health coverage to nearly every American. It's also considered the largest expansion of the government safety net since Medicare was created in 1965.

Republicans worry the measure will impose huge financial and regulatory burdens on businesses and taxpayers, despite claims that the measure would actually save money in the long run.

The 10-year $871 billion measure expands Medicaid and creates new tax subsidies to help lower- and middle-income families comply with a mandate to purchase insurance. The Senate bill has a penalty of up to $750 for any individual who fails to get coverage. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the legislation could reduce the defict by $132 billion over the next decade. Those savings would come through tax increases on the healthcare industry and spending cuts. Those cuts are mostly in Medicare paymens to healthcare providers.

This is the first Senate vote on Christmas Eve since 1895. That vote was whether to provide federal benefits to U.S. servicemen. In this morning's vote each Senator rose one-by-one from their historical wooden desks to cast their votes, according to wire reports. Vice President Biden presided over the chamber.

Analysts estimate that if the healthcare measure eventually becomes law, that within the next decade 94% of legal residents would have insurance coverage, which is up from 83% now.

The measure would end lifetime limits on insurance coverage and insurers could not drop people's coverage because they get sick. And by 2014, insurers could no longer deny any customers coverage because of a pre-existing health condition.

The House and Senate healthcare bills have significant differences that will have to be hammered out in conference. That work begins in earnest when Congress returns from the holiday recess.