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

Greenlight up for health care reform bill in U.S. House of Representatives

2009-11-08 07:49:58 GMT2009-11-08 15:49:58 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

WASHINGTON, Nov. 7 (Xinhua) -- U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday passed a historic bill on health care reform, which was considered a landmark legislation that has been worked on for decades.

The voting wrapped up months of efforts by Democratic congressmen to push the bill through opposition from Republicans and conservatives and helped fulfill President Barack Obama's campaign promise of universal health care coverage in the country.

It took almost one year for the Obama administration and the Democrats to achieve this, but nearly a century for Americans to go this far.

The idea of universal health care coverage for Americans was brought up by Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 when he ran for the presidency, followed later by President Harry S. Truman in 1949. However, these two attempts were defeated by strong opposition.

The reform inched forward when some government-administered social insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid were established to support the senior and the poor.

However, during the Bill Clinton administration, Democrats-backed proposals to reform the health care system, led by then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, was aborted due to lack of support in Congress, which was such a big blow to the Democratic Party that it had remained as the minority party in the next 12 years.

However, health care reform has been always sitting at the top of the domestic political agenda to both parties, and came back as Obama's priorities in his campaign and his first year in White House.

This time around, his proposals, though more flexible, were hit by no less opposition, despite his record-high popularity and his party's status as the majority party in both floors of Congress.

Since May, Obama and his top advisors have sped up their lobbying among lawmakers, industry organizations and the public, making around-the-clock town hall meetings and public statements.

His efforts climaxed with his unprecedented appearance at a joint session of Congress in September to lay out his guidelines and goals for health care reform.

Following the president's directives, several committees in Congress mapped out their own reform proposals, which have been combined into unified versions in each of the floors, separately, after rounds of fierce debates and negotiations.

The fight over the reform was not only between Democrats and Republicans, but also between the liberal and conservative wings, or blue dogs, inside the Democratic Party.

The deadline set by Obama to have the reform bill passed has been delayed many times as Democratic leaders in Congress were trying to unite the party to get enough votes to pass the bill.

On the other hand, they had to deal with public doubt and protest over concerns of an increasing budget deficit and government intervention the reform may bring to them.

Generally speaking, the dispute has focused on two issues -- funding of the bill and public option.

According to the House bill, the reform is estimated to cost 1.1 trillion U.S. dollars over the next 10 years to expand health care insurance coverage to 96 percent of Americans.

Although Obama has made it clear that the fund will mostly come from the government after it cuts the cost of current health care social programs, a number of people still warn of potential tax hikes as a solution.

The public option is finally included in the House bill as a way to offer Americans more options when buying insurance and also increase market competition to bring down the cost. However, concerns are still heard that it may expand the government's role in deciding health care affairs and lead to a total takeover.

The passage of the bill in the House was a significant victory to Obama and his party, but it is still early to celebrate since the Senate is struggling to clear the way for the green light to its version of the bill.

Senate Democratic leaders have hinted earlier this week they might miss the deadline again and leave the issue till next year.

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