The Senate Finance Committee has approved its long-awaited version of the health care reform bill by a 14-9 vote.

The lone Republican who voted for the $829 billion bill was Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who joined the 13 Democrats on the committee to pass the measure. Snowe had been intensely involved in the negotiations on the bill as one of the so-called Gang of Six, but her support had been in doubt until the afternoon of the vote. “Is this bill all that I would want?” she said in announcing her support. “Far from it. Is it all that it can be? No. But when history calls, history calls. And I happen to think that the consequences of inaction dictate the urgency of Congress to take every opportunity to demonstrate its capacity to solve the monumental issues of our time.”

The bill will still need to be reconciled with one passed this summer by the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee before it is voted on by the full Senate. The Senate HELP Committee bill contains a number of differences, including a public option run by the government as opposed to the nonprofit health insurance cooperatives in the Finance Committee plan. There are also various tax differences in the Senate Finance Committee bill, including taxes on so-called high-cost “Cadillac” insurance policies. The Finance Committee version of the bill is expected to attract the widest support, however. “Ours is a balanced plan that can pass the Senate,” said Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., who shepherded the bill through months of contentious negotiations.

However, ranking member Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, warned, “This bill is already moving on a slippery slope toward more and more government control of health care.” The bill includes a provision that bans insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, a provision that Republicans had agreed to include. "There's a lot in this bill that's just a consensus that needs to be done, but there are other provisions of this bill that raise a lot of questions," said Grassley.


President Obama, who pushed the committee to complete its work on the bill, praised its passage. “I just want to thank the Senate Finance Committee for plowing forward on what we all acknowledge is an extraordinarily complicated issue,” he said.

Snowe indicated that her vote in the committee was no guarantee of how she would vote on the final bill that comes before the full Senate. “There are many miles to go in this legislative journey,” she said. “My vote is my vote today. It doesn’t forecast what my vote will be tomorrow.”

The bill received some extra support last week when the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would reduce the federal budget by $81 billion over the next decade. However, an insurance industry-sponsored study by PricewaterhouseCoopers released over the weekend threw fresh doubts on the plan, estimating that a family health insurance policy that costs $12,300 today would increase to an average of $25,900 by 2019 if the bill were passed, as opposed to $21,900 under current law.

The study blamed the weakness of the individual mandate requirements and the extra fees imposed on insurance companies for the hike.

Under the bill, a 40 percent excise tax would be imposed on insurers of employer-sponsored plans whose benefits were greater than $8,000 for individuals and $21,000 for families. Annual fees of about $13 billion would be imposed on health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and medical device-makers. The threshold for itemized deductions for unreimbursed medical expenses would increase from 7.5 to 10 percent under the bill.

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