[JURIST] The US Senate Finance Committee [official website] voted 14-9 to approve [press release, PDF] a health care reform bill [text, PDF] Tuesday. The America's Healthy Future Act, introduced by committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) [official website], would require most US citizens to obtain health insurance and would create tax breaks for low-income families purchasing insurance. The bill would also prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to individuals with preexisting conditions and create tax incentives for small businesses purchasing insurance for employees. While employers would not be required to provide employees with coverage, employers with more than 50 employees would have to pay a fee for employees who get federally subsidized benefits. The bill does not contain a controversial public insurance option, which has been supported by President Barack Obama, but strongly opposed by Republican lawmakers. Obama expressed enthusiasm [press release] that the bill had passed, while acknowledging its imperfection and the amount of work still to be done. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) [official website] because the first Republican to support Obama's health care reform plan by voting in favor of the bill. Four other health care reform bills have been approved by Senate and House committees, and all five bills must now be debated and reconciled.
Health care reform has been a top priority of the Obama administration over the past several months. Some have complained that the lack of a public option for low-income individuals does not go far enough to fix the nation's health care system. Conservatives have argued that proposed additional taxes on expensive insurance policies already in place would make reform too costly. Approximately 47 million Americans are uninsured, according to the National Coalition on Health Care [advocacy website], though that number is disputed.