Historic healthcare legislation poised to be passed


THE US House of Representatives was on the verge of passing historic healthcare reform legislation last night, writes LARA MARLOWEin Washington

It will extend medical insurance to 32 million Americans, meaning that for the first time in its history, the US will have near universal healthcare coverage.

The expected passage of the Bill was hailed as a victory and a defining moment for President Barack Obama, for the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and for the Democratic party.

The President’s supporters believe that passage of the Bill will give new impetus to his leadership, and enable him to move on to other pressing domestic and foreign policy issues.

Mr Obama was to make a televised address to the nation from the East Room of the White House after the vote last night.

Republicans continued to mount staunch opposition to the Bill, with the House minority leader John Boehner predicting its passage would constitute an “Armageddon” that would “ruin our country.”

“We’ll remember in November,” protestors chanted outside the Capitol yesterday, referring to next autumn’s mid-term elections.

Passage became almost certain when the White House and Representative Bart Stupak announced at 4pm eastern standard time that they had reached agreement on the abortion aspect of the legislation.

Mr Stupak led a group of 12 “pro-life” Democrats who opposed the Bill because they believed it was not strict enough on abortion.

Mr Obama agreed to sign an executive order the moment the House passed the Bill, reiterating that no federal funds will be used to finance abortion.

The House was in fact to pass two Bills: the H.R. 3590 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – the same Bill that was passed by the Senate on Christmas eve – and the H.R. 4872 Healthcare and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010, a set of “fixes” to make the Senate Bill acceptable to House Democrats.

President Obama was expected to sign H.R. 3590 immediately, making it the law of the land.

In coming days, the smaller Reconciliation Act must win 51 of 100 votes in the Senate, where majority leader Harry Reid says he is certain it will pass.

John Larson, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told ABC television yesterday morning: “President Roosevelt passed Social Security. Lyndon Johnson passed Medicare. Today, Barack Obama will pass healthcare reform.”

A Harvard study last year found that close to 45,000 Americans die every year because they do not have medical insurance.

Many of the Bill’s provisions will take years to take effect. But starting this year, insurance companies will no longer be able to drop patients who fall ill, impose limits on the amount of coverage, or refuse children with pre-existing conditions.

Young people will be allowed to stay on their parents’ medical insurance until the age of 26 and small businesses will receive tax credits to enable them to offer healthcare insurance.