Sweeping health care change is on the way.
After more than a year of passionate debate that included angry rallies and impassioned partisan rhetoric, the House of Representatives narrowly passed the most comprehensive health reform bill in more than a century that will begin to extend coverage to millions of Americans.
Obama, who has made health care a centerpiece of his first term agenda, praised those members of Congress who voted for the bill and signed it into law on Tuesday, March 23.
“Today, after almost a century of trying, today, after over a year of debate, today, after all the votes have been tallied, health reform insurance becomes law in the United States of America,” President Barack Obama said to a thunderous applause from supporters as he signed the bill on Tuesday.
The House of Representatives voted to approve the bill, which had already passed the Senate, by a 219-211 vote with no Republicans voting in favor of the bill. Thirty-four Democrats voted against the bill.
Shortly after that vote, Congress approved a bill with changes by a 220-212 margin and those changes will be sent to the Senate, who is expected to begin reconciliation – a process that could take a few days or weeks – sometime this week.
Speaking to local reporters via conference call on Monday, March 22, Congressmember Anthony Weiner said that the health bill that passed in the House accomplishes three important goals. It provides insurance to millions of people who currently do not have it, provides additional protection for people from their health insurance companies and bends the cost curve down for citizens, policyholders and states.
Weiner, who was a staunch supporter of the public option, which was not included in this bill, said that because of those three reasons he decided to support the bill.
“I came to the conclusion that we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Weiner said.
In addition, the bill will immediately give tax credits to small businesses who wish to offer health care to their employees and allow children to remain on their parents’ plan until age 26. However, many of the items in the bill will not take effect until 2014.
While Democrats are hailing this bill as a historic victory, Republicans believe that Democrats will be on the wrong side of history saying that the bill will increase spending, add new taxes and have a negative impact on senior citizens.
“This bill is bad for New York and bad for the country,” said Long Island Republican Congressmember Peter King. “While health care reforms are needed, this bill will ultimately give the government control of our healthcare system, and will particularly hurt senior citizens, veterans and small businesses. I stand with the majority of American taxpayers in strong opposition to this bill.”
Senate Republicans are vowing to challenge the bill during the reconciliation process, and some Republican State Attorney Generals have already filed legal challenges to the legislation saying that it infringes on state rights.
Congressmember Gary Ackerman, a longtime Queens Democrat who represents the eastern part of the borough, believes that the majority of his constituents are in favor of the bill, and he said the unpopularity of the bill can be attributed to the hysteria and wrong information circulated by opponents.
Ackerman believes that extending coverage to those currently without insurance will provide an immediate benefit to hospitals in Queens.
“This will relieve our hospitals and our emergency rooms (ER) of these huge burdens of when people get sick and go to the ER,” Ackerman said.
Weiner, who represents Congressional District 9 that includes parts of Queens and Brooklyn with 70 percent of his constituents in Queens, said that the bill will improve coverage for 424,000 residents with health insurance in his district.
According to an analysis conducted by Weiner’s office, the bill will also give tax credits and other assistance to 144,000 families and 11,800 small businesses and guarantee that 8,000 residents with pre-existing conditions can obtain coverage. In addition, four community health centers in his district that provide health care services to the poor are expected to receive millions in assistance.