In a symbolic victory for Democrats, Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe crossed party lines and voted for a Democratic health care reform bill on Tuesday.
The Democrats hold a 13-10 majority on the Senate Finance Committee, which ensured passage of a 10-year, $829-billion plan bill that requires nearly all Americans to purchase health insurance and introduces numerous other changes, the Associated Press reported.
So, although the Maine Senator's announcement didn't change the outcome of the crucial vote, it provided a much-needed boost to President Barack Obama's quest to provide universal health coverage. Colleagues said Snowe had some misgivings about the bill, but has said "when history calls, history calls," the AP said.
Senate Finance Committee support of the bill, which Republicans oppose, would represent a significant advance in Obama's efforts to overhaul the nation's $2.5 trillion health system. Four other congressional committees passed legislation before August. For months, attention has focused on the Finance Committee, the remaining one.
Even after the Finance Committee's approval, much more work must be done before the bill could arrive on Obama's desk, the AP reported. The bill will have to be folded into a more liberal one passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. And the House of Representatives is still working on its version of a bill.
Along with making health insurance mandatory, the Finance Committee bill would force insurance companies to accept all applicants, and consumers could look for insurance within new state marketplaces called exchanges. There are consumer protections such as limits on co-pays and deductibles, and lower-income families would receive federal subsidies to help them purchase coverage.
Employers wouldn't have to provide coverage for their workers, but they'd have to pay a penalty for each worker who sought insurance with government subsidies, the AP reported. Medicare would be expanded. The cost of the bill would be covered by new taxes on insurance companies and others, along with cuts to Medicare providers.