Democratic lawmakers took a first step toward fulfilling President Barack Obama's promise to overhaul healthcare, outlining a plan to insure around 46 million Americans without coverage, says report.
Lawmakers embarked on what promises to be a volatile debate over healthcare reform, as senators spearheaded by veteran Democrat Edward Kennedy presented a 615-page plan dubbed the "Affordable Healthcare Choices Act."
AdvertisementIt marks an opening salvo in a political battle that has been stirring since Obama said he wanted healthcare to be law by the end of the year, following up on a campaign pledge to overhaul the complex system.
The president has publicly given few details about what he would like to see in the law, preferring instead to paint broad brush strokes and let Congress fill in the detail.
Tuesday's text was drafted by Democrats on the Senate committee for health, education, labor and pensions, and is set to be followed by rival proposals from other factions.
The proposal would introduce a state-backed insurance scheme, a proposal which remains deeply controversial, and would see strict new rules for existing private insurance companies.
It aims "to make quality, affordable health care available to all Americans, reduce costs, improve health care quality, enhance disease prevention, and strengthen the health care workforce," according to the text.
Presidents and Congress have repeatedly discussed reforming the country's healthcare system, but deep ideological differences, largely along party lines, have prevented any proposals from being passed into law.
Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid said now was the time for lawmakers to act, as families and businesses hit by the global economic downturn struggle to pay healthcare costs.
"We want health care reform. This is the time to do this. We want health care to reduce the costs for families and for businesses.
"Under the status quo Americans pay much more than they should to stay healthy," he said. "We're going to do our very best to fix what is broken."
The text was immediately attacked by Republicans, who said the plan cut against American's desire for limited central government.
"The American people don't want that. They're concerned about the cost. They're concerned about the government takeover," said Arizona Republican Senator John Kyle.