The House approved a $940 billion health reform package in a series of historic votes, ushering in the most sweeping changes to the U.S. healthcare system since the 1965 law that created the Medicare program.
In a vote of 219-212, the House first approved the Senate's larger health reform package, which is expected to by signed by the president tonight or Monday. Shortly afterward, the House cleared a reconciliation bill meant to revise the larger bill by a vote of 220-211, completing its part in a yearlong process that now goes to the Senate for final consideration.
The legislation had the support of the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals and the American Medical Association.
The legislation seeks to cover 32 million more Americans by establishing a new health insurance market or “exchange,” plus coverage expansions to the Medicaid program. It significantly revamps the way insurance companies do business; prohibiting insurers from placing lifetime caps on coverage and denying care and coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. The bill also aims to close Medicare's coverage gap or “doughnut hole,” and provides small-business tax credits to make insurance more affordable.
At the same time it imposes insurance mandates for individuals and employers. The bill includes limits on physician ownership of hospitals.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the legislation would reduce the deficit by $143 billion over the first 10 years of enactment and $1.2 trillion over the following decade. Sponsors of the bill claim the savings would be achieved by reducing fraud, waste and abuse in the healthcare system and paying providers for the quality of care they provide, as opposed to the volume of patients they treat.
The legislation was approved after a harrowing day of last-minute deals on abortion language and ongoing criticism from the members of the GOP, who believe the legislation represents a “government takeover” of healthcare.