IBJNews

Congress passes historic health care bill

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Summoned to success by President Barack Obama, the Democratic-controlled Congress approved historic legislation Sunday night extending health care to tens of millions of uninsured Americans and cracking down on insurance company abuses, a climactic chapter in the century-long quest for near universal coverage.

"This is what change looks like," Obama said a few moments later in televised remarks that stirred memories of his 2008 campaign promise of "change we can believe in."

Widely viewed as dead two months ago, the Senate-passed bill cleared the House on a 219-212 vote. Republicans were unanimous in opposition, joined by 34 dissident Democrats.

A second, smaller measure — making changes in the first — cleared the House shortly before midnight and was sent to the Senate, where Democratic leaders said they had the votes necessary to pass it quickly. The vote was 220-211.

Obama's young presidency received a badly needed boost as a deeply divided Congress passed legislation touching the lives of nearly every American. The battle for the future of the health insurance system — affecting one-sixth of the economy — galvanized Republicans and conservative activists looking ahead to November's midterm elections.

Far beyond the political ramifications — a concern the president repeatedly insisted he paid no mind — were the sweeping changes the bill held in store for Americans, insured or not, as well as the insurance industry and health care providers that face either smaller than anticipated payments from Medicare or higher taxes.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the legislation awaiting the president's approval would extend coverage to 32 million Americans who lack it, ban insurers from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions and cut deficits by an estimated $138 billion over a decade. If realized, the expansion of coverage would include 95 percent of all eligible individuals under age 65.

For the first time, most Americans would be required to purchase insurance, and face penalties if they refused. Much of the money in the bill would be devoted to subsidies to help families at incomes of up to $88,000 a year pay their premiums.

The second measure, which House Democrats demanded before agreeing to approve the first, included enough money to close a gap in the Medicare prescription drug coverage over the next decade, starting with an election-season rebate of $250 later this year for seniors facing high costs.

Much of the cost would be covered by the pharmaceutical industry, which made a deal months ago with the White House in which it pledged to spend lavishly on television ads to help pass the bill.

It also included sweeping changes in the student loan program, an administration priority that has been stalled in the Senate for months. It would have the government originate all student loans, denying banks and other private lenders of a lucrative business they have long had. Much of the savings would go into increased Pell Grants for needy college students, but black and Hispanic colleges would also benefit.

For the president, the events capped an 18-day stretch in which he traveled to four states and lobbied more than 60 wavering lawmakers in person or by phone to secure passage of his signature domestic issue. According to some who met with him, he warned that the bill's demise could cripple his still-young presidency, and his aides hoped to use the victory on health care as a springboard to success on bills to tackle stubbornly high unemployment that threatens Democratic prospects in the fall.

Obama watched the vote in the White House's Roosevelt Room with Vice President Joe Biden and dozens of aides, exchanged high fives with Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, and then telephoned Speaker Nancy Pelosi with congratulations.

"We proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things," he said later in the White House East Room. "We proved that this government — a government of the people and by the people — still works for the people.

Crowds of protesters outside the Capitol shouted "just vote no" in a futile attempt to stop the inevitable taking place inside a House packed with lawmakers and ringed with spectators in the galleries above.

Across hours of debate, House Democrats predicted the larger of the two bills, costing $940 billion over a decade, would rank with other great social legislation of recent decades.

"We will be joining those who established Social Security, Medicare and now, tonight, health care for all Americans, said Pelosi, D-Calif., partner to Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in the grueling campaign to pass the legislation.

"This is the civil rights act of the 21st century," added Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the top-ranking black member of the House.

Republicans readily agreed the bill would affect everyone in America, but warned repeatedly of the burden imposed by more than $900 billion in tax increases and Medicare cuts combined.

"We have failed to listen to America," said Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, leader of a party that has vowed to carry the fight into the fall's midterm elections for control of Congress.

The final obstacle to the bill's passage was cleared at mid-afternoon when Obama and Democratic leaders reached a compromise with anti-abortion lawmakers whose rebellion had left the outcome in doubt. The White House announced the president would issue an executive order pledging that no federal funds would be used for elective abortion, satisfying Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan and a handful of like-minded lawmakers.

A spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed skepticism that the presidential order would satisfy the church's objections.

Republican abortion foes also said Obama's proposed order was insufficient, and when Stupak sought to counter them, a shout of "baby killer" could be heard coming from the Republican side of the chamber.

The measure would also usher in a significant expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor. Coverage would be required for incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, $29,327 a year for a family of four. Childless adults would be covered for the first time, starting in 2014.

The insurance industry, which spent millions on advertising trying to block the bill, would come under new federal regulation. They would be forbidden from placing lifetime dollar limits on policies, from denying coverage to children because of pre-existing conditions and from canceling policies when a policyholder becomes ill.

Parents would be able to keep children up to age 26 on their family insurance plans, three years longer than is now the case.

A new high-risk pool would offer coverage to uninsured people with medical problems until 2014, when the coverage expansion would go into high gear.

Obama has said often that presidents of both parties have tried without success to achieve national health insurance, beginning with Theodore Roosevelt early in the 20th century.

The 44th president's quest to succeed where others have failed seemed at a dead end two months ago, when Republicans won a special election for a Massachusetts Senate seat, and with it, the votes to prevent a final vote.

But the White House, Pelosi and Reid soon came up with a rescue plan that required the House to approve the Senate-passed measure despite opposition to many of its provisions, then have both houses pass a fix-it measure incorporating numerous changes.

To pay for the changes, the legislation includes more than $400 billion in higher taxes over a decade, roughly half of it from a new Medicare payroll tax on individuals with incomes over $200,000 and couples over $250,000. A new excise tax on high-cost insurance policies was significantly scaled back in deference to complaints from organized labor.

In addition, the bills cut more than $500 billion from planned payments to hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and other providers that treat Medicare patients. An estimated $200 billion would reduce planned subsidies to insurance companies that offer a private alternative to traditional Medicare.

The insurance industry warned that seniors would face sharply higher premiums as a result, and the Congressional Budget Office said many would return to traditional Medicare as a result.

The subsidies are higher than those for seniors on traditional Medicare, a difference that critics complain is wasteful, but insurance industry officials argue goes into expanded benefits.

ADVERTISEMENT

  • Calm Down
    I promise that within 6 months people that were "afraid" of health care reform will come up with something else to scare the typically uninformed citizen........What will it be this time? I for one am glad to see this pass. We spend more money on our military than china and russia combined, it's good to see us spend money on our people for a change.
  • looking forward to NOV
    Yes, the really were looking out for the american people. Lenin once said, control the the healthcare, control the people. With 73% against this disaster, lets just hope it can be undone once Obama is gone
  • Weird.
    After the last 10 years, I was pretty convinced the US Government could only start wars and reward the uber-wealthy with tax breaks.

    Nice to see something that can help so many in need. I wasn't sure the Democrats could get over their own infighting to get this done.

    I personally would like to have seen a public option in there, but in due time I suppose. For those of you who don't like the 'Socialism'...I would tell you to move elsewhere, however it seems we were nearly the last country in the world to leave citizen behind with regards to healthcare.

    For the record, I actually have very good Anthem Coverage that I like. However it keeps me job locked and away from helping the family business as I have a pre-existing condition that makes me uninsurable on the private market.
  • Finally
    Nice to see progress, congratulations Mr. President!
  • God Help Us Now
    Speak up in the Fall people and vote these clowns out of office! We have just opened the door for government takeover of other industries as well. This is just part of Obama's larger socialistic agenda. Wake up America!

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Uh, sorry Johnnie, but you are incorrect. Despite the assertions by yourself and various defenders and captains, sports attendance is NOT off significantly at most sporting events in the US. Variances in attendance has been in the range of single digits, both + & - for years now. MLB has had most of its best overall attendance nubers in the last decade, and that trend has been consistent for most major sporting events. The number one issue cited by most fans when asked about attendance is the overall cost of attending. The presence of HD and big screen televisions in home doesn't even register, as a factor for not attending an event. VALUE in the product is the key, and apparently is something lacking in the current ICS. What other explanation is there when with what is routinely touted as the "best" racing on the planet, fans are staying away in DROVES. A "close" title battle into the last event at Fontana, with the "cars and stars" of the ICS, and who showed up? MAYBE 8K. Sorry, but HD TV isn't to blame for that kind of fan apathy.

  2. Do you need finance to establish your business ? Are you interested in getting a loan at 3% from our private company? If so please Email: suntrust_oil@blumail.org

  3. If she was worth the $ the public outcry over direct tv dropping them would have kept them on their dishes as we have seen with other companies. I too quit watching channel 13 after she showed up since I left channel 8 because of her all show rather than production results. When Randy on 8 corrected her she had a big head and incorrectly challenged his correction for pronunciation of a city. Other antics while she matures was too much for me with her very inaccurate forecasts. All the forecasters were predicting rain until Thursday except Chris. They predicted sunny on Thursday but instead of rain until Thursday upon which the sun would finally make it out in full glory Chris was right on the money just as I too predicted looking at the radar on weather.gov. One thing I love about Angela is the fear you can see in her every time it thunders in the winter. It far exceeds the entertainment value of her body language (high heel noise drags, depression, etc) when her forecasts are so incorrect. Her hair stands on end, you have to see it!!!

  4. Good Day, Apply For A Loan I am Mr Fernadez Antonio, a private Loan lender and a cooperate financial for real estate and any kinds of business financing. I also offer Loans to individuals, Firms and cooperate bodies at 3% interest rate We offer any kind of loans. email us via fernadezloaninvest@outlook.com LOAN APPLICATION FORM First name:......................... Middle name:......................... Last name:........................................ Date of birth (yyyy-mm-dd):....................... Gender:........................................... Marital status:................................... Total Amount Needed............................... Loan Duration.................................... Address:.......................................... City:............................................. State/province:................................... Zip/postal code:.................................. Country:.......................................... Phone:............................................ Fax:.............................................. Mobile/cellular:.................................. Monthly Income.................................... Occupation:....................................... Best Regard, Mr Fernadez Antonio.

  5. i will love to share my testimony to you all the people in world i got married to my husband about 2 year ago we start having problems at home like we stop sleeping on the same bed,fighting about little things he always comes home late at night,drinking too much and sleeping with other women out side i have never love any man in my life except him. he is the father of my child and i don't want to loose him because we have worked so hard together to become what we are and have today .few month ago he now decided to live me and the kid,being a single mother can be hard sometimes and so i have nobody to turn to and i was heart broken.i called my mom and explain every thing to her,my mother told me about DR.okoro how he helped her solve the problem between her and my dad i was surprise about it because they have been without each other for three and a half years and it was like a miracle how they came back to each other. i was directed to DR. okoro on his email:okorospell@gmail.com and explain everything to him,so he promise me not to worry that he will cast a spell and make things come back to how we where so much in love again and that it was another female spirit that was controlling my husband he told me that my problem will be solved within two days if i believe i said OK So he cast a spell for me and after two days my love came back asking me to forgive him i Am so happy now. so that why i decided to share my experience with every body that have such problem contact Dr okoro the great spell caster on his email addresses spellcasterforlove@outlook.com

ADVERTISEMENT