20 Dec 2009

Crucial vote gained for US healthcare reform

8:58 am on 20 December 2009

Democratic Party leaders in the United States Senate have won over a key senator to secure the 60 votes needed to pass sweeping healthcare reforms.

Senator Ben Nelson had been concerned that federal money would be used to fund abortions but after 13 hours of talks the Democrats said they had an agreement on phrasing that would secure his vote.

President Barack Obama has praised the compromise, saying that this is a major step forward for the American people.

The Senate bill aims to extend coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans. It provides subsidies to help low-income people pay for cover and halts industry practices such as refusing insurance to people with pre-existing medical conditions. It also sets a cap on insurance company profits.

Mr Obama, who has made healthcare reform as a key plank of his presidency, wants the Senate to pass the bill by year's end. Republicans fiercely oppose the reforms and have tried to delay the bill's passage as long as possible.

Voting could now begin on Tuesday, though any version passed by the Senate must be reconciled with a House of Representatives version before it can become law.