WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate passed a sweeping healthcare reform bill, the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act, late last week in time to take recess for the Christmas holiday. The bill must now be reconciled with a bill passed by the House of Representatives before becoming law.
The Senate’s version promises to expand coverage to about 94% of legal U.S. residents under age 65, up from 83% today. Its estimated total cost is $871 billion over 10 years, paid for with revenues from insurance and drug companies, manufacturers of medical devices, and taxes and fees.
The bill mandates insurance coverage for most individuals, and establishes insurance exchanges in which individuals and small businesses can shop plans. Starting in 2014, the federal government will offer Medicaid coverage to those earning up to 133% of the poverty level (currently $22,000 for a family of four), and subsidize insurance coverage on a sliding scale for families earning 133% to 400% of poverty level.
Small businesses with up to 25 employees and average wages of less than $50,000 per year or less will be able to receive expanded tax credits to offer staffers insurance coverage. Employers with more than 50 employees must offer coverage or pay fines if employees are forced to take federal subsidies in order to purchase coverage.
While business groups differ on the impact of healthcare reform, at least one organization is warming to the Senate’s plan. “The Senate has made key improvements in its bill over the House-passed version,” Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association (NRA), said in a statement.
“The healthcare reform package currently before the Senate demonstrates meaningful progress toward protecting jobs and small businesses while taking steps toward providing access to high quality, affordable healthcare for Americans.”
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