Wed, November 18, 2009
World > Americas > U.S. health care reform

U.S. House passes overhaul health care reform bill

2009-11-08 04:06:24 GMT2009-11-08 12:06:24 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gestures during a press conference at Capitol Hill, in Washington, the United States, Nov. 7, 2009, after the passage in the House of Representatives on a health care reform bill.(Xinhua/Zhang Yan)

WASHINGTON, Nov. 7 (Xinhua) -- U.S. House of Representatives passed a historic overhaul health care reform bill on Saturday night, which was considered a big boost to President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

By voting 220 to 215, the House approved the bill H.R. 3962, titled Affordable Health Care for America Act, after hours of debates and discussion at the whole floor.

"The Affordable Health Care for America Act is a piece of legislation that will provide stability and security for Americans who have insurance; quality affordable options for those who don't; and bring down the cost of health care for families, businesses, and the government while strengthening the financial health of Medicare," said Obama in a statement to congratulate the passage.

He acclaimed the legislation also because "it is fully paid for and will reduce our long-term federal deficit."

The reform bill would lead to the biggest policy changes to the U.S. healthcare system since the government established the Medicare, a social health insurance program for the elderly, in 1965.

The 2,000-page bill, combining three different versions drafted by different House committees, would cost 1.1 trillion U.S. dollars over next 10 years, but would extend insurance coverage to96 percent of Americans, including 36 million uninsured currently, and eventually cut the federal deficit by roughly 30 billion dollars.

Among other things, the bill would subsidize insurance for poorer Americans and create health insurance exchanges to make it easier for small groups and individuals to purchase coverage.

It would also cap annual out-of-pocket expenses and prevent insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

According to House Democrats, the measure will be financed through a combination of a tax surcharge on wealthy Americans whose annual incomes are over 500,000 dollars, and spending cut in Medicare and Medicaid by 1.3 percent every year.

The bill also includes controversial public option but rules that health care providers are allowed to negotiate reimbursement rates with the federal government.

President Obama said in a pre-voting statement that the House vote "can bring us one step closer to making real the promise of quality, affordable health care for the American people."

"It is a bill that is fully paid for and will actually reduce our long-term federal deficit," he added.

The House also voted on Saturday night 240 to 194 to pass the abortion amendment that would prohibit coverage of abortions under a government-run health care plan, as a comprise to win support from some conservative Democrats to the health care reform bill.

The floor rejected Republican alternative health care plan by 176 to 258.

The United States is the only developed country that does not provide a universal health care for its citizens. Most people have to obtain their health insurance through employment, and only the poor, elderly and military veterans can enjoy the government-funded coverage.

Official statistics show that the U.S. annual health care spending has reached 2.2 trillion dollars, or 7,471 per person, which accounts for 16 percent of GDP. If the current system continues, this percentage is estimated to reach 25 percent in 2025.

However, the victory in the House cannot guarantee that there will be a bill sent to the president to sign into law. The Senate is still evaluating its own unified version of the health care reform bill and has not yet set a date for the final voting.

Obama expressed his confidence that Congress would eventually send him a bill although the deadline he set for it has been delayed several times.

"We are just two steps away from achieving health insurance reform in America," he said in the statement. "I am absolutely confident it will, and I look forward to signing comprehensive health insurance reform into law by the end of the year."

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