Stage Set for Historic US Health Care Debate
Stage Set for Historic US Health Care Debate
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The U.S. Senate Finance Committee is expected to vote Tuesday on a sweeping health care reform bill aimed at lowering insurance costs and expanding coverage to more Americans.   

Under the Finance Committee bill, nearly all Americans will be required to buy health insurance or face a penalty.  Insurance companies will face tough new regulations, such as no longer being able to reject individuals for coverage because of pre-existing conditions. 

Republicans are still overwhelmingly opposed to U.S. President Barack Obama's health care reform proposals, saying they are too expensive and intrusive.

But moderate Senator Olympia Snowe could become the first Republican to support health care reform if she votes in favor of the Senate Finance bill Tuesday.

Health care legislation that passed in three House Committees and one other Senate panel did so without a single Republican vote.

The committee's passing of the bill would mark a significant advance, but there are many more steps in the health care reform debate.  Both the Senate and the House of Representatives must bass a bill, and then act again on a merged version before the president could sign the legislation into law. 

A new report by a health insurance lobbying group said the overhaul will drive up costs on families' annual premiums by as much as $4,000 over the next decade.  But a White House spokesman lashed out at the report Monday, calling it a "self-serving analysis" by a major opponent of health care reform. 

Democratic lawmakers and the White House accuse the health insurance group that commissioned the report, America's Health Insurance Plans, of trying to derail President Obama's top domestic priority before the crucial Senate panel vote.

An analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office last week gave a more positive review of the Senate Finance Committee's bill.  The CBO said it would help cut the U.S. budget deficit while providing health insurance coverage to most Americans under age 65.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.