Senate Votes to Proceed with Health Care Debate
The Senate tonight voted 60-39 to open up debate on health care reform legislation, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) winning the 60 votes needed to pass the measure.
Calling the vote “a critical and historic milestone in the march toward genuine health care reform,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Democrats “signaled that they are united and serious about solving the health care problems that torment working families daily.”
The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act currently:
- Requires employers, with at least 50 full time employees, that offer no health coverage to pay a penalty of $750 per employee, if one or more full-time workers qualify for a government subsidy in the health insurance exchange. The AFL-CIO union movement continues to press for a full employer mandate covering all workers in all firms, but this at least creates a serious penalty for free rider employers.
- Would cover 94 percent of Americans while reducing the deficit by $130 billion over the next 10 years.
- Includes a public insurance plan option that will help bring down costs by keeping insurance companies honest and forcing them to compete. The inclusion of the public option in both the House and Senate bills shows that members of Congress believe the public option is an essential part of any final health care legislation.
- Would also hold insurance companies accountable by ending the practice of denials and raising premiums because of preexisting conditions or gender.
- Includes a provision that will cut the rate of growth in Medicare spending in half, according to the Congressional Budget Office, through a powerful new Medicare Commission. Besides being a strong mechanism for controlling Medicare costs, the Commission will set a path that private purchasers can, and likely will, follow to control private health care spending.
But as Trumka noted, the bill needs work, especially its provision taxing the benefits of middle-class families:
The Senate bill’s strong cost cutting measures go further than any previous legislation. But the bill must be improved in important areas. The employer responsibility provision should be expanded to cover all employers. And any plan to tax working families’ benefits should be eliminated—taxes on the middle class are the wrong way to pay for health care.