‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the House …

The U.S. House chamber may be quiet this year, but in the Senate the creatures will be stirring. The final vote on the health care bill is set for Christmas Eve. This update just in from the Democratic National Committee:

Senate Democrats Break Republican Filibuster, Final Vote on Health Reform Legislation Set for Christmas Eve.  

All 60 members of the Democratic caucus voted for cloture early Monday morning, overcoming a Republican filibuster and clearing a critical procedural hurdle to getting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to the floor for a full vote before the end of the year.  Democrats won another cloture vote on Tuesday morning, so with one more procedural vote to go before a vote on final passage – which is currently scheduled for 7:00pm on Christmas Eve – fundamental reforms to our health care system are finally within reach.

Last weekend’s Senate debate is one history-lovers will read about for years to come:  the Senate worked through the weekend, despite a blizzard that dumped 20 inches of snow and brought Washington to a stand-still; the Senate’s oldest and longest-serving member, 92 year-old Robert Byrd of West Virginia, was greeted with cheers upon his arrival to the Senate chambers;  and Vicki Kennedy, Senator Ted Kennedy’s widow, watched from the gallery in the wee hours of Monday morning as Senators voted from their desks, a rarely used practice implemented only for historic votes.  

There were passionate voices calling for reform outside the Senate chambers this weekend, too. Mrs. Kennedy and Vice President Joe Biden had powerful pieces the Washington Post and New York Times. Kennedy argued passionately that this is the moment her husband would not want to lose, writing: “So I humbly ask his colleagues to finish the work of his life, the work of generations, to allow the vote to go forward and to pass health-care reform now.” Vice President Biden cautioned against letting the perfect be the enemy of the good: “While it does not contain every measure President Obama and I wanted, I would vote yes for this bill certain that it includes the fundamental, essential change that opponents of reform have resisted for generations… Most recently, in 1993, Democrats had a chance to forge a compromise with Senator John Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, on a health care reform bill. Congress’s failure to pass health care reform that year led to 16 years of inaction — and 16 years of exploding health care costs and rising numbers of uninsured Americans. We can’t let that happen again. While it is not perfect, the bill pending in the Senate today is not just good enough — it is very good.”

With all the back and forth, it can be hard to keep track of what is and isn’t in the Senate bill. Here’s quick rundown of the immediate and short term benefits included in the Senate bill:



Children will be allowed to stay on their parent’s insurance policy until age 26 Insurance companies will be prohibited from kicking people off their coverage, known as “rescissions”

The deficit will begin to be reduced, by over $100 billion in the first ten years alone Insurers will be required to cover prevention and wellness benefits and exempt those benefits from deductibles and other cost-sharing requirements

Insurers must spend up to 85% of premiums on patient care, instead of administration costs or you’ll receive a rebate

Patients will be able to appeal denials of health care coverage, with states ensuring the availability of an external, independent process that holds insurance companies accountable

Tax credits will be available for small business so they can get help to cover their workers

A ban on refusing coverage due to pre-existing conditions for children will go into effect 

The prescription drug “donut hole” in Medicare Part D will begin to be close

Beginning the path to saving Medicare for future generations by lowering costs



A ban on refusing coverage due to pre-existing conditions for adults with high-risk pools available until exchange is up and running

Health Insurance Exchanges—market-based, competitive health insurance marketplaces, where people can one-stop-shop for the plan that best fits their needs among an array of competing health care plans—will be created

National private plans, including one that must be non-profit, administered by the Office of Personnel Management, the same entity that oversees health care plans for members of Congress

Subsidies (or Affordability Credits) will be offered to help lower and middle income families afford coverage

A ban on lifetime and annual health care caps will be enacted beginning in 2014 but with restrictions until then  

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