Senate Finance Committee passes pivotal healthcare reform bill

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Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) serves on the Senate Finance Committee.
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) serves on the Senate Finance Committee.

The Senate Finance Committee voted 14-9 Tuesday to pass America's Healthy Future Act of 2009. The committee's approval marks a critical turning point for Congress in its attempt to pass comprehensive healthcare reform.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) was the sole Republican to vote for the bill. She noted, "when history calls, history calls." There have been misgivings about the bill, which is the last of five to pass out of congressional committees, from both sides of the aisle. Progressives believe it does not go far enough to create public safeguards against the insurance industry, while conservatives generally have opposed it from the beginning. As such, there was speculation up until the last minute as to whether or not the bill would garner any Republican support.

The Senate Finance Committee bill is considered the most moderate of the healthcare reform bills passed. It contains a number of provisions affecting long-term care, including a pilot program to test payment bundling and the creation of a special office to deal with those dually eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. It also contains a provision that would tie the market basket update for nursing homes to "productivity adjustments" and includes significant transparency requirements for nursing homes. The bill now makes its way to the Senate floor. There, it will be merged with the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions bill, which contains the popular Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act.