WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats passed a landmark health care bill Thursday that could define President Barack Obama’s legacy and usher in near-universal medical coverage for the first time in the country’s history.
The 60-39 vote on a cold Christmas Eve morning capped months of arduous negotiations and 24 days of floor debate. It also followed a succession of failures by past congresses to get to this point. Vice President Joe Biden presided as 58 Democrats and two independents voted “yes.” Republicans unanimously voted “no.”
The tally far exceeded the simple majority required for passage.
The Senate’s bill must still be merged with legislation passed by the House before Obama could sign a final bill in the new year. There are significant differences between the two measures but Democrats say they’ve come too far now to fail.
The legislation would ban the insurance industry from denying benefits or charging higher premiums on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions. The Congressional Budget Office predicts the bill will reduce deficits by $130 billion over the next 10 years, an estimate that assumes lawmakers carry through on hundreds of billions of dollars in planned cuts to insurance companies and doctors, hospitals and others who treat Medicare patients.
Like a lot of other Democrats, I’m concerned about this bill and whether the lack of a public option will keep costs down. But it certainly is historic, and I’m not an expert on insurance, so I can only hope for the best.