Passage Of Committee’s Health Care Plan Sets Stage For Debate

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The health care reform debate reached a new milestone Tuesday as a key congressional committee passed an $829 billion plan projected to extend coverage to an additional 29 million Americans.

The Senate Finance Committee’s bill would subsidize insurance for poorer Americans, establish non-profit health care cooperatives, and create health insurance exchanges to make it easier for small groups and individuals to buy insurance.

Among other things, it would cap annual out-of-pocket expenses and prevent insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

The plan is financed by a combination of reductions in spending for Medicare and other government programs, as well as higher taxes on expensive insurance policies and new fees on the health industry.

The committee passed its long-awaited plan Tuesday with a 14-9 vote. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, was the lone committee member to cross party lines, breaking with other Republicans to vote for the measure. All of the committee’s Democrats supported the bill.

The Finance Committee was the last of five congressional panels to consider health care legislation before formal debate begins in the full House and Senate.

Democratic leaders in each chamber have already started the politically delicate task of melding together five pieces of legislation — two in the Senate and three in the House.

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