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Senate OKs Health Bill Amendment, Limits Debate On Full Bill

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Members of the Senate today voted 60-39 both to approve a major manager’s amendment to H.R. 3590, the Senate health bill, and to protect the bill from a filibuster.

The 383-page Reid-Baucus-Dodd-Harkin amendment, Senate Amendment 3276, was unveiled Saturday. It would make many major changes to the underlying Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act bill, such as replacing a proposed public health plan to be run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with a system of regional plans to be provided by private companies but administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

The PPACA bill amendment also would cut Medicare physician reimbursement rates 21% in 2010, rather than increasing reimbursement rates 0.5%; restructure a proposed system for imposing annual fees on health insurers; increase a proposed hospital insurance payroll tax on high-income workers to 0.9%, from 0.9%; encourage states to establish medical malpractice dispute resolution pilot programs; index a proposed $2,500 annual cap on flexible spending account contributions for inflation; and require the HHS secretary to study whether self-insured health plans achieve any cost savings through efficiency or by skimping on benefits.

The vote on protecting the full PPACA bill from a filibuster, or endless round of debate by opponents, was really a vote for cloture for Substitute Amendment 2786 to H.R. 3590.

Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., used an existing House bill, H.R. 3590, which originally was intended to create a tax break for members of the armed forces who were buying homes, as a vehicle for introducing the PPACA bill. Technically, the PPACA bill is an amendment to H.R. 3590.

After the party-line votes on the manager’s amendment and cloture, Reid urged members of the Senate to think about the spirit of Christmas over the next few days and set any personal animosity aside.

“To quote Rodney King, ‘Let’s all try to get along,’” Reid urged.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he gets along well with Reid, that there is no personal animosity as a result of the health bill debate, and that he expects to work out a deal to provide certainty about when work on H.R. 3590 will end.

Senate Democratic leaders now are suggesting that the Senate may hold the final vote on H.R. 3590 at 7 p.m. Thursday, on Christmas Eve.


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