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  Obama Awaits Imminent Senate Healthcare Victory  
 

Coverage of the Senate's healthcare reform debate last night and this morning includes reports on President Obama's decision to delay his upcoming holiday in order to monitor the bill's progress. NBC Nightly News (12/22, story 3, 2:45, Williams) reported that Democrats Tuesday "sped up the time table for a final vote on their bill so they can get home for the holiday. But between now and then, there are going to be some epic battles over some pretty big deal-breakers that are going to matter to every American when they try to go to the doctor." NBC added, "The big finale Senate vote was expected nighttime Christmas Eve, but a deal worked out between Republicans and Democrats will move that to morning, letting everybody get out of here sooner than expected." President Obama "says the first family's Hawaii trip is on hold until after Senate Democrats get their bill passed."

 

        According to the Washington Post (12/23, Montgomery, Kane), "From Capitol Hill to the White House, Democrats on Tuesday began celebrating the imminent approval by the Senate of an overhaul of the nation's health insurance system. The measure cleared a second procedural hurdle and Republicans agreed to cut short the debate, setting the stage for a final vote Thursday morning. 'The finish line is in sight,' the bill's chief architect, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), declared shortly after the Senate voted 60 to 39, along caucus lines, to advance the $871 billion health package."

 

        Another Washington Post (12/23, Wilson) article reports that during an Oval Office interview Tuesday, President Obama "vigorously defended the [Senate] legislation, saying he is 'not just grudgingly supporting the bill. I am very enthusiastic about what we have achieved.'"

 

        USA Today (12/23, Kiely) reports, "Barring any medical emergencies, Republicans have little hope of blocking Senate passage of the 10-year, $871 billion bill -- the most sweeping change of the nation's healthcare laws since Medicare was created in 1965." The Los Angeles Times (12/23, Fiore, Hook) and the AP (12/23, Werner) also cover the story.

 

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Senate bill described as a "dream come true" for insurers.

ABC World News (12/22, story 2, 2:45, Sawyer) reported that "insurance company stocks have soared. So...does the bill let the companies take the country to the cleaners?" ABC's Jonathan Karl added, "The stock market seems to think the healthcare bill is a dream come true for the insurance industry. One major index of health insurance stocks is up a whopping 54% this year, more than double the S&P 500. ... There is much for insurance companies to like. Consider, they'll get 30 million more customers -- people who don't have insurance now, but will be required by law to get it. And there's $436 billion in government subsidies to help people buy insurance." Karl noted that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) "said that insurance companies will make out like bandits with this bill, and he's actually supporting it."

 

        Yet, the Wall Street Journal (12/23, McKay, Goldstein, subscription required) notes that since the market bottom last March, the S&P 500's healthcare stocks have only risen 45%, which is less than the whole index's 65% gain. And the University of Chicago's Richard Epstein, in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal (12/23, subscription required), predicts that the Democrats' healthcare reform plan will cause many insurers to declare bankruptcy.

 

        WellPoint questions legality of Senate reform bill's insurance-tax amendment. Bloomberg News (12/23, Nussbaum, Gaouette) reports that WellPoint is "weighing whether it has grounds to challenge a tax break for nonprofit competitors in Alabama, Michigan and Nebraska." The company "obtained a legal opinion last week just before" Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) "officially proposed exempting some nonprofit health plans from a $70-billion" insurance-industry tax. The tax exemption was "included in a revised version of Senate legislation" introduced Dec. 19. The law firm "Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP advised WellPoint in a 'preliminary assessment' dated Dec. 17" that an argument could made that the "Levin amendment runs afoul of equal-protection provisions in the Constitution." Additionally, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) "invited insurers to challenge the legislation in court during a speech" yesterday on the Senate floor. WellPoint "has yet to decide on its next course."

 

        Unions still hoping to ease or eliminate "Cadillac plan" tax. Washington Post (12/23), writes, "The Net roots is up in arms about the Senate's version of healthcare reform," while "the liberal establishmentarians...support the bill's passage," and "in between the two, indignant and stuck, is organized labor." Meyerson quotes Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, as saying, "There's an excise tax on policies, but there's no public option to hold down the cost of those policies. ... There's no Medicare buy-in, no pay-or-play mandate for employers. There's no Canadian Reimportation to hold down drug costs." Meyerson says the "unions...are working to promote the chief funding mechanism in the House bill (a tax hike on individuals with incomes over $500,000 and couples with incomes over $1 million) over that in the Senate bill (a tax that, to start, will fall on health insurance policies that cost more than $23,000 for a family of four)."

 

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