Health insurers get some big presents in the Senate's health overhaul bill — about 20 million new customers and no competition from a new government plan.
Taking advantage of those boons might take some time, though.
The bill imposes hefty new taxes and coverage rules that will pinch insurers by forcing them to cover more sick people without gaining enough healthy, lower-cost customers, industry insiders say. The industry is also worried the bill doesn't do enough to control health care costs.
It's a matter of figuring out how to make those new customers profitable, analysts say.
The inconsistency — or hypocrisy, as some call it — has irked Democrats, who claim that their plan will pay for itself with higher taxes and spending cuts and cite the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office for support.
By contrast, when Republicans controlled the House, Senate and White House in 2003, they overcame Democratic opposition to add a deficit-financed prescription drug benefit to Medicare. The program will cost a half-trillion dollars over 10 years, or more by some estimates.
With no new taxes or spending offsets accompanying the Medicare drug program, the cost has been added to the federal debt.
President Barack Obama's commitment to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by next month may be delayed until 2011 because it will take months for the government to buy an Illinois prison and upgrade it to hold suspected terrorists.
The drawn-out construction timetable shows the political risk of Obama's pledge, a delay that could even be extended by congressional opposition to funding the purchase and upgrades for the Thomson Correctional Center, an underused state facility about 150 miles west of Chicago.
The costs of health care reform being pushed through Congress by Democrats will be felt long before the benefits.
Proposed taxes and fees on upper-income earners, insurers, even tanning parlors, take effect quickly. So would Medicare cuts.
Benefits, such as subsidies for lower middle-income households, consumer protections for all, and eliminating the prescription coverage gap for seniors, come gradually.
"There's going to be an expectations gap, no question about that," said Drew Altman, president of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. "People are going to see their premiums and out-of-pocket costs go up before the tangible benefits kick in."
Universities and colleges are still waiting for tuition payments for thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who attended school last fall under the new GI Bill, leaving the veterans panicked that they'll be unable to return to class in January.
Veterans Affairs Department officials promise to get them back into the classroom. The VA says the number of veterans with claims unprocessed is now fewer than 5,000 — down from tens of thousands — and the goal is to have them all processed by the end of the year.
The public's views on health care have stayed largely steady this year, despite dramatic swings in the political battle over President Barack Obama's drive to revamp the nation's medical system, a survey says.
Overall, 82 percent say an overhaul of the nation's health care system is important for recharging the economy, according to an average of monthly polls conducted since April by the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The most recent survey, covering November, found that 77 percent agree with that connection.
A Marine Corps whistleblower says military officials are trying to force him from his job for exposing failures to deliver lifesaving equipment to troops in Iraq.
Franz Gayl, a senior civilian employee, alleges a series of punitive actions that underscore the challenges President Barack Obama faces in fulfilling a campaign pledge to treat federal whistleblowers as patriots instead of pariahs.
Public interest groups cheered Obama's promise. But Gayl's case points to the difficulty of transforming a culture, particularly within the military, where whistleblowers often are viewed with contempt.
The little town of Libby, Mont., isn't mentioned by name in the Senate's mammoth health care bill, but its 2,900 citizens are big winners in the legislation, thanks to the influence of Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.
After pushing for years for help for residents, many of whom suffer from asbestos-related illnesses from a now-closed mineral mining operation, Baucus inserted language in a package of last-minute amendments that grants them access to Medicare benefits.
The U.N. climate talks were in serious disarray Friday, with delegates blaming both the U.S. and China for the lack of a political agreement that President Barack Obama, China's premier and more than 110 other world leaders are supposed to sign within hours.
Broad disputes continued behind closed doors between wealthy nations and developing ones, delegates said — the divide that from the start has dogged the two-week U.N. climate conference, which aimed to reach agreements on deeper reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming.
Both Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao were in the Danish capital, but no agreed text had emerged just an hour before the presidents and premiers were to gather at a Copenhagen convention hall, said Swedish Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren.
Federal workers owed the government more than $3 billion in back income taxes in 2008, just as federal tax revenues started to suffer from the recession.
More than 276,000 federal employees and retirees owed back income taxes as of Sept. 30, 2008, according to data from the Internal Revenue Service. The $3.04 billion owed was up from $2.7 billion owed by federal employees and retirees in 2007.
Among cabinet agencies, the Department of Housing and Urban Development had the highest delinquency rate, at just over 4 percent. The Treasury Department, which includes the IRS, had the lowest delinquency rate, at 0.98 percent.
Overall, the 9.7 million federal workers included in the data had a delinquency rate of about 2.9 percent.