Obama praises ‘historic’ health vote

US President Barack Obama on Sunday described the approval of a health bill by the House of Representatives as "historic".

Updated: Nov 09, 2009, 00:10 AM IST

Washington: US President Barack Obama on Sunday described the approval of a health bill by the House of Representatives as "historic".

The US President further said he was "absolutely confident" the Senate would give thumbs up to its own version.

Surely, the healthcare reforms would become law by the year-end, he added.

The Democratic-controlled House narrowly passed landmark health care legislation on Saturday night to expand coverage to tens of millions who lack it and place tough new restrictions on the insurance industry. Republican opposition was nearly unanimous.

The 220-215 vote cleared the way for the Senate to begin debate on the issue that has come to overshadow all others in Congress.
A triumphant Speaker Nancy Pelosi likened the legislation to the passage of Social Security in 1935 and Medicare 30 years later.

"It provides coverage for 96 percent of Americans. It offers everyone, regardless of health or income, the peace of mind that comes from knowing they will have access to affordable health care when they need it," said Rep. John Dingell, the 83-year-old Michigan lawmaker who has introduced national health insurance in every Congress since succeeding his father in 1955.

The legislation would require most Americans to carry insurance and provide federal subsidies to those who otherwise could not afford it. Large companies would have to offer coverage to their employees. Both consumers and companies would be slapped with penalties if they defied the government`s mandates.

Insurance industry practices such as denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions would be banned, and insurers would no longer be able to charge higher premiums on the basis of gender or medical history. In a further slap, the industry would lose its exemption from federal antitrust restrictions on price gouging, bid rigging and market allocation.

At its core, the measure would create a federally regulated marketplace where consumers could shop for coverage. In the bill`s most controversial provision, the government would sell insurance, although the Congressional Budget Office forecasts that premiums for it would be more expensive than for policies sold by private firms.

The bill is projected to expand coverage to 36 million uninsured, resulting in 96 percent of the nation`s eligible population having insurance.

To pay for the expansion of coverage, the bill cuts Medicare`s projected spending by more than USD 400 billion over a decade. It also imposes a tax surcharge of 5.4 percent on income over USD 500,000 in the case of individuals and USD 1 million for families.

The bill was estimated to reduce federal deficits by about USD 104 billion over a decade, although it lacked two of the key cost-cutting provisions under consideration in the Senate, and its longer-term impact on government red ink was far from clear.

Bureau Report