President Barack Obama today hailed the passing of landmark healthcare legislation through the Senate, saying it brought the US towards the end of a near century-long struggle for reform.
During a special Christmas Eve session in Congress, the Bill was carried by a 60 to 39 vote in a ballot which was split strictly along party lines with no Republican support.
Versions of the Bill have now been approved in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. But further negotiations will be needed to iron out discrepancies between the different proposals before it can be signed off by the president.
Nonetheless, Mr Obama said today’s was a “historic vote” which brought closer the prospect of enacting the most important piece of social policy since the 1930s.
The move marked another significant step towards extending coverage to some 30 million-plus Americans who are shut out of the current system, while also driving down the price of insurance.
Republican opposition has centred on the cost of the Bill, claiming that it will represent a hike in taxes for Americans and a cut in federal spending for elderly healthcare.
House minority leader John Boehner said: “Not even Ebenezer Scrooge himself could devise a scheme as cruel and greedy as Democrats’ government takeover of healthcare.
“It is no coincidence that the more the American people learn about this monstrosity, the more they oppose it.”
But others have hailed it for proposals that will see coverage extended to millions of poor people.
If enacted, all Americans will be required to carry insurance, with low-income families subsidised by the state.
In addition, provisions in the Bill will ban the insurance industry from denying cover or hiking premiums due to pre-existing conditions.
But in a major disappointment for many, the idea of having a state-run insurance scheme has seemingly been dropped.
The so-called public option was jettisoned by Democrats in the Senate in a bid to win over sceptical members to the Bill.
Other issues still to be worked out include stricter provisions in the House version against the use of government money for abortions and plans in the lower house to increase tax for high-earners to pay for the reform.
Nonetheless, President Obama welcomed today’s development calling on Congress to now “finish the job”.
He said: “We can’t doom another generation of Americans to soaring costs and eroding coverage and exploding deficits.
“Instead we need to do what we were sent here to do and improve the lives of the people we serve.
“For the sake of our citizens, our economy, and our future, let’s make 2010 the year we finally reform healthcare in the United States of America.”