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Senate Passes Health Reform Package
Date:12/24/2009

Next step is compromise with House plan, before proposal can become law

THURSDAY, Dec. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Senate Democrats gave President Barack Obama a Christmas Eve gift on Thursday with passage of a landmark health care bill that would extend coverage to 31 million uninsured Americans.

Obama said the Senate bill contains 95 percent of the health reforms that he has sought since his inauguration on Jan. 20. "Every single criteria for reform that I put forward is in this bill," the president told the Washington Post.

The 10-year, $871 billion bill would expand health insurance coverage to more than 94 percent of Americans under age 65, including more than 30 million uninsured people; require nearly all Americans to buy insurance; and provide tax credits to help low-income individuals and families pay for coverage. Exclusions on pre-existing medical conditions -- a longstanding practice of the insurance industry-- would be a thing of the past.

The final Senate vote had 58 Democrats and two independents voting "yes" and Republicans unanimously voting "no," the Associated Press reported.

Democrats hailed the passage of the bill, saying in a prepared statement that the "historic health reform legislation" would "extend affordable, quality coverage to millions of Americans in a fiscally responsible way. Our bill saves lives, saves money and saves Medicare."

Republicans countered that the bill would damage Medicare through projected spending cuts, and add billions of dollars to the federal deficit at a time when the nation can't afford such a massive undertaking.

Still, the health reform package won't make its way to the White House until early next year, because House and Senate negotiators must huddle to iron out differences between their respective bills. Assuming they reach an agreement, each chamber must vote on a compromise version. If the House and Senate pass the
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