- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday passed a $600 billion health-care reform bill — becoming the first congressional committee to approve legislation that fulfills President Obama’s first-year goal of cutting Americans’ rising medical costs.

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted 13-10, along party lines, to pass the Affordable Health Choices Act, which would expand coverage for most Americans by requiring them to get insurance and require employers to contribute to the cost.

“What was passed today is the foundation for meaningful reform,” said Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat. “This bill says that health care is not a luxury, its a necessity. … It protects existing coverage when it’s good, improves it when it’s not, and guarantees care for the millions who have none.”

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Mr. Obama immediately gave his support to the legislation.

“Today, thanks to the unyielding passion and inspiration provided by Sen. Edward Kennedy, the … committee he chairs has produced a proposal that will finally lower health care costs, provide better care for patients, and ensure fair treatment of consumers by the insurance industry.”

Republicans on the committee said the legislation meets none of Mr. Obama’s goal.

“That bill gets an F,” said Sen. Michael Enzi, Wyoming Republican. “That bill got it wrong.”

Mr. Enzi said Republicans were not included in crafting the bill, which fails to fulfill Mr. Obama’s promise that Americans who have and like their insurance can keep that coverage.

On Tuesday, House Democrats released a $1.5 trillion bill that requires all Americans to have coverage. It includes a public-insurance program, like the Senate bill passed Wednesday.

The House bill, released by three committees that share jurisdiction over health care and lauded by Mr. Obama, taxes the wealthiest Americans and would require employers to provide insurance or pay a penalty. The insurance industry would face a series of new regulations, including a ban on denying patients with preexisting conditions.

President Obama has made health-care reform his top domestic priority. He wants to slow the rising costs by insuring roughly 46 million Americans without coverage and making the health-care industry more efficient.

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