Health-care bill passes Senate unaltered from House version

Measures limit soft drinks, gambling and tobacco sales

Health-care bill passes Senate unaltered from House version

Rome, October 31 - The Italian Senate on Wednesday approved the government's health-care bill unaltered from its form that passed in the House on October 18. The bill sets out to increase access to health care, curb the effects of soft drinks, as well as reduce gambling and smoking among minors. The ayes were 181 and the nays were 43, while 23 abstained from voting. Before it was approved by the cabinet in September it was sharply opposed by regional governments, labor unions and lobbies representing gambling, tobacco and beverages. Pared down in the House from 27 original articles to 16, the bill aims to create a network of 24-hour clinics that would increase access to general physicians while cutting overhead costs. Measures also include distancing gambling machines from schools, places of worship and residences for the elderly by at least 200 meters. The bill aims to make the process of nominating hospital directors more transparent. A controversial tax on soft drinks was replaced with measures pushing manufacturers to make 20% of the beverage with fruit, and unpasteurized raw milk and fish will be banned from school cafeterias. A minimum 250-euro fine will be issued for selling tobacco to minors and strict limits are to be put on advertising-related products. Concerns about the constitutionality of some measures led to their removal from the bill before it reached the House, said government sources who admitted "the scope of the measures" was less than initially expected.

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