The U.S. Senate has approved sweeping new health care reform legislation that would extend health insurance access to about 30 million uninsured Americans.
In an early morning vote Thursday, senators approved the bill 60 to 39 along party lines, with minority Republicans unanimously opposed.
The passage represents a victory for President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats, who had made health care reform a major legislative priority.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid left, listens as Sen. Charles Schumer speaks during press conference on Capitol Hill, 24 Dec 2009
Speaking at the White House, Mr. Obama said the legislation passed in the Senate includes the "toughest measures ever taken to hold the insurance industry accountable".
In addition to extending insurance coverage, the legislation would ban insurance companies from denying benefits because of pre-existing medical conditions.
Before the president can sign the bill into law, the Senate and the House of Representatives must reconcile their two separate versions of the bill. The two versions differ on several key points, meaning a compromise could take time.
Before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of the southern state of Kentucky said he and his Republican colleagues would continue working to stop the bill from becoming law, saying "this fight isn't over."
Republicans have argued that the bill is too costly and amounts to a government takeover of the health care industry.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada called the vote a victory, saying it "affirmed that the ability to live a healthy life in Americais a right and not a privilege."
In interviews with U.S. media, Mr. Obama said he is very "satisfied" with the bill and that it contains 95 percent of the elements he wants.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says the bill will cost $871 billion.
The vote on the final bill was held early in the day to allow senators and their staff to travel home from Washington in time for the Christmas holiday.