U.S. stock index futures were higher on Thursday as the dollar weakened and investors awaited data that was expected to show improvement in durable good orders and the crucial labor market.

Healthcare-related sectors will be in focus after the U.S. Senate approved an overhaul measure Thursday morning.

In data that could give clues on the strength of a recovery, orders for long-lasting goods are expected to rise 0.5 percent after dropping 0.6 percent in October, while initial jobless claims are seen falling by 10,000 from the prior week. A decline suggests improvement in the battered labor market, considered one of the biggest headwinds facing the economy.

The belief is that claims will fall and that durable goods will be on the strong side, signs that economic activity is continuing to grow, said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Avalon Partners in New York.

Futures are also being helped by strong overseas markets and the lower dollar. So even if the data is weak, I expect we'll end positive.

Both data points are scheduled for release at 8:30 a.m. EST (1330 GMT).

S&P 500 futures rose 2.3 points and were above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures gained 30 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 2.75 points.

Thursday's session will be abbreviated for Christmas Eve, and the markets will be closed on Friday for Christmas.

The Senate approved U.S. President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul. While the proposed reform has been pressuring health insurance stocks, analysts say the measure won't hurt the sector as much as previously thought.

The bill passing is priced into the market, and I don't expect it to have any impact on trading, especially when volume will be so light, Cardillo said.

The U.S. dollar index <.DXY> fell 0.4 percent, coming off three-month highs against a basket of currencies a day after weak U.S. housing data was released.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei average <.N225> rose 1.5 percent to close at a three-month high as a weaker yen boosted exporters, while Europe's leading share index rose for a fourth straight session and remained on track to post its best yearly gains in a decade.

Dow component Chevron Corp agreed late Wednesday to pay almost $46 million to settle charges it underpaid royalties owed for natural gas produced from federal and Indian leases, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

The Dow industrials eked out a fourth straight day of gains in Wednesday's session, helped by solid earnings from technology companies, though an unexpected drop in new home sales limited advances.