Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Senate Democrats unveil healthcare reform bill

Senate Democrats unveil healthcare reform bill
By Donna Smith
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leading Senate Democrats unveiled on Tuesday a plan to revamp U.S. healthcare that calls for sweeping insurance market reforms and prohibits insurers from denying coverage due to pre-existing medical conditions.
The bill from Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is one of at least three major healthcare proposals brewing in Congress, which Democrats hope will lead to landmark legislation that can be sent to President Barack Obama to sign into law by October.
"Our goal is to strengthen what works and fix what doesn't," Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, chairman of the committee, said in a statement that accompanied the bill's public unveiling.
"Over the next few days, we will continue working with our Republican colleagues on common sense solutions that reduce skyrocketing healthcare costs, assure quality care for all and provide affordable health insurance choices," Kennedy said.
Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives and a second group of U.S. senators led by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus are developing similar proposals. Baucus has been working with Kennedy's panel and is expected to unveil his version of the bill in the coming days.
The Kennedy panel will hold a public drafting session on the bill next week, an aide said.
"Much work remains, and the coming days and weeks won't be easy. But we have a unique opportunity to give the American people, at long last, the healthcare they need and deserve," Kennedy said.
Obama has called on Congress to pass legislation this year to overhaul the $2.5 trillion healthcare system, aiming to cut costs and ensure that millions of Americans now without health insurance get coverage. The government said 46 million Americans went without any health insurance in 2007.
Healthcare costs burden many U.S. businesses and families and eat away at federal and state budgets.
Many congressional Republicans have criticized Democratic proposals for a new government-run insurance program that would compete with private insurers. People 65 and older, the disabled and the poor already are eligible for the public Medicare and Medicaid insurance plans.
The House and Senate bills would establish an exchange, a kind of clearinghouse, in which individuals and small businesses could shop for insurance. Democratic lawmakers want the new public insurance program to be an option offered in the exchange.
Democrats say a public plan that would compete with private insurers is the only way to ensure cost containment and low premiums. Republicans and insurers argue that would drive insurance companies out of business and lead to a government-run U.S. healthcare system.
Both the House and Senate versions of the bill are expected to include a requirement for individuals and businesses to obtain insurance, but a Senate aide said some details of the requirement still need to be worked out in the Senate bill.
In a sign of the high priority given the healthcare legislation, the Senate Democratic leadership has moved back consideration of reform of financial services regulations in order to concentrate on healthcare, a Senate Banking Committee aide said.
(Writing by John Whitesides; editing by Will Dunham)

Source: Reuters

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