First Senate Committee Approves Version of Health Care Reform

July 15, 2009

The Senate health committee Wednesday approved its version of legislation to overhaul the U.S. health industry, which is to be combined with a bill yet to be written in the Senate Finance Committee.

The Democratic-controlled health panel’s bill, approved on a 13-10 party-line vote, seeks to expand coverage to much of the 46 million uninsured Americans, adds a government-run healthcare program, requires most Americans to obtain health insurance, and mandates most employers to provide it to their workers.

The legislation also seeks to reduce costs in the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare industry, but Republicans complained that its $1 trillion cost over 10 years would worsen the burgeoning federal deficit.

Acting committee chairman Senator Christopher Dodd praised President Obama’s commitment to healthcare overhaul. “He is willing to extend every bit of political capital he has … that is an incredible commitment by an American president,” he said as the committee began final action on the bill.

“It’s not inexpensive, but it’s a lot less expensive than the predictions were earlier.”

But the senior Republican on the panel, Senator Mike Enzi, called the bill “a prescription for failure.” He complained that Republicans were shut out of the drafting process.

“If America is going to believe in what we do, this cannot be a bill just put together by one side.”

In addition to healthcare coverage, the bill includes a provision sought by drug companies to give expensive biotechnology medicines protection from cheaper rivals for 12 years.

The panel is the first of five congressional committees to complete work on its version of a major overhaul for the industry, which comprises one-sixth of the U.S. economy.

Three House committees are to start work this week and the Senate finance panel, which has jurisdiction over how to pay for healthcare, is expected to begin debate next week. The committees are in a rush to complete work to allow time for action in each chamber by August, and complete the final, unified House-Senate bill by October.

(Reporting by Kim Dixon, Writing by Jackie Frank)

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