Health Care Bill Passes Senate, Faces New Hurdles in 2010

"The AMA supported passage of the bill because it contains a number of key improvements for our health care system, which currently is not working for far too many patients or the physicians who dedicate their lives to patient care," the organization's president, J. James Rohack, said in a written statement. "While this vote closes one chapter of the legislative process, the hard work is not yet done."

Some medical experts argue that in the process to implement better health care for Americans, politics became more important than concern for people's well-being.

"Politics has caused compromises that may make the 'victory' hollow in that $1 trillion will not buy adequate, truly affordable health care for a large segment of the population," said Arthur Garson, dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Virginia.

Republicans tried every maneuver they could to defeat or delay the health care bill, at one point even forcing clerks to spend a day reading hundreds of pages out loud. Today, they continued their attacks.

"The Democrats have put a $2.5 trillion lump of coal in the stocking of every American knowing that their risky health care experiment still increases premiums, still cuts Medicare, and still enacts hundreds of billions of new taxes to pay for it," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said in a written statement. "Scrooge would be proud."

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who left town and missed every vote on the health care bill, returned to the Senate today to cast his "no" vote.

Democratic senators worked through weekends behind closed doors to cobble together the 60 votes needed to defeat a series of Republican motions to block the bill. At the end, they came together, but after giving many concessions to Democratic senators, such as Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who had expressed reservations about some components of the health care bill, in a move that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., dubbed "one of the great Bernie Madoff gimmicks."

Health Care Overhaul: What Does it Mean?

The Senate health care bill would cost $871 billion over the next 10 years and expand access for 31 million Americans who don't have health insurance. It counts on lower Medicare costs, taxes on the insurance industry and medical device makers, as well as a special tax on high-cost insurance plans, to pay for the legislation.

Every person would be required by the government to have insurance or pay a fine. Medicaid would be greatly expanded for the poor, and people making up to $88,000 for a family of four would get help from the government to pay for insurance.

Health industry experts had mixed views of the Democrats' health care overhaul efforts. Some said it will hurt rather than help.

"The U.S. is dramatically centralizing federal control over the funding and also important aspects of the delivery of health care in the United States -- as has been happening recently in Norway, Ireland, Italy and other parts of Europe," said Richard Saltman, an international health expert at Emory University.

But others said it's a substantial step toward reform.

"It's a start," said Donald Kemper, chairman and chief executive of non-profit group Healthwise Incorporated. "It focuses on reducing the inequities and that's not a bad place to start."

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