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Health Insurance Reform Forges Ahead

Congress must now merge competing bills

by Tim Walker

Health insurance reform got a boost on Tuesday after the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Senator Max Baucus of Montana, approved its bill. In the 14-9 vote, 13 Democrats were joined by one Republican Senator, Olympia Snowe of Maine, in voting the $829 billion legislation out of committee.

All five of the House of Representatives or Senate panels with jurisdiction over health care have now passed a bill. No other reform proposal has ever gotten this far.

"We are now closer than ever before to passing health reform," President Barack Obama said yesterday.

The Senate must now meld this bill with an alternate version of the health insurance reform legislation that was approved back in July by the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Leaders in the House must do the same with three different bills.

As the process moves forward, labor unions, including the NEA, will be lobbying lawmakers to make sure the resulting legislation includes a strong public option and is paid for without taxing health benefits – provisions that are in the bills released by the HELP committee and House committees, but absent from the one approved on Tuesday by the Finance committee. NEA says it will continue to work to ensure what goes to the president’s desk for his signature corresponds more with these stronger and comprehensive versions.

Creating a final bill may take until the end of the year, but many health reform advocates believe the approval of the Senate Finance committee’s version, despite its flaws, was an important step because it keeps the legislative process moving ahead.

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