After a year of fierce partisan
debate, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed the landmark
$940 billion health-care reform bill, which would extend health insurance coverage
to 32 million uninsured Americans, prevent insurance companies from denying
coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions and cut the federal
deficit by an estimated $138 billion over the next decade.
The bill, the most sweeping social
legislation since the Great Society programmes of the 1960s and the centrepiece
of the first year of President Barack Obama’s administration, also represents a
milestone — near universal health insurance — that has eluded presidents
since Theodore Roosevelt more than a century ago.
The final tally, which adhered
almost entirely to party lines, was 219 “yes” votes and 212
“no” votes not one Republican voted for the measure, which was a vote
on a similar bill already approved by the Senate.
Before a final bill can be sent to
Obama for his signature, the Senate must sign off on a package of
House-approved changes to the Senate bill. A simple majority vote in the Senate
would complete the process, paving the way for Obama’s signature, which is
expected early this week.
As the bill now stands, taking
effect in 2010:
Insurers would no longer be able to
exclude high-risk individuals from getting a policy, nor would they be able to
dump people who develop medical problems.
Young adults, up to age 26, would
be eligible for coverage under their parents’ policies.
Ceilings on annual or lifetime
benefits would be eliminated.
Longer-term changes would include:
Setting up regional health
insurance exchanges that various groups — including self-employed people,
those without employer-based health coverage, high-risk individuals and small
businesses — could tap for coverage.
Adopting portable health insurance,
meaning people could take their coverage with them if they left a job.
Stricter regulation and scrutiny of
the health insurance industry