President Barrack Obama moved one step closer to achieving sweeping health care reform on Saturday, November 7 when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act by a narrow margin.
Advocates cheered and opponents mobilized after the passage of the bill that proponents say would reduce health care costs, protect and increase consumers’ choices, and guarantee access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans.
The bill, which passed the House by 220 to 215 votes, had become a political lightening rod in recent months over its potential cost to taxpayers – the approved bill amounts to $1.1 trillion over 10 years, paid for through new taxes and Medicare cuts – and the inclusion of a so-called “public option” that would compete with private insurers.
The back-and-forth featured Republicans chiding Democratic operatives for orchestrating a “government takeover” and Democrats defending a bill they said would deliver health insurance to 36 million Americans currently living without coverage. In the end, only one Republican voted for the legislation, while 39 Democrats opposed it.
Under the bill, which would have to be approved by the Senate and signed into law by the President, pre-existing conditions would no longer lead to rate increases or coverage denials; there would be no more co-pays or deductibles for preventive care; out-of-pocket expenses would be capped and lifetime limits on insurance company expenses would disappear; consumers would be able to keep their doctor and current health plan; and affordable coverage, including oral, hearing, vision and mental health care, would be guaranteed.
Additionally, the bill would expand Medicaid and install a national insurance exchange where consumers – a majority of whom would be required to purchase health insurance under the legislation – would shop for private or public plans. The bill would also provide subsidies to help certain Americans obtain insurance and would require most employers to provide health insurance for their employees.
Local Congressmembers Joseph Crowley, Carolyn Maloney and Anthony Weiner applauded the Affordable Health Care bill.
“In the past decade, the cost of health care for American families has skyrocketed,” Crowley said in a statement. “Premiums have doubled, yet wages have remained stagnant. Last year, more than half of Americans postponed care or skipped their medications because they could not afford it.” He went on, “This is not just a failure of our health care system, it is morally unacceptable. And, without this legislation, it is only going to get worse.”
In the absence of health care reform, Crowley noted, the cost of employer-sponsored health plans would increase by 84 percent by 2016 and small businesses would lose $52 billion in profits to health care costs over the next 10 years.
Weiner, underscoring the work he has been able to accomplish in lieu of his abandoned mayoral bid, said the passage of the bill “shows that Congress can take major steps to improve the lives of Americans.”
Of course, the bill has its fair share of staunch opponents, including the National Organization for Women (NOW). NOW condemned Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for their “effort to placate anti-choice Democrats” with an amendment that bans the public health insurance option from funding abortions.
Many Democrats hope to make changes to the amendment during negotiations with the Senate.
Also certain to be a key issue during Senate talks is the ability of individual states to opt-out of the public health care option.
A bill could hit the Senate floor within weeks.