Sunday, 14 April 2024

House passes health care reform bill Saturday

WASHINGTON, DC – By a slim margin, the House of Representatives on Saturday night passed a bill meant to overhaul the nation's health care system.

The 220 to 215 vote on HR 3962, Affordable Health Care for America Act, was taken late Saturday evening, and fell largely along party lines, although 39 Democrats voted no and one Republican – Rep. Joseph Cao of Louisiana – voted yes, according to C-SPAN.

Responding to news of the vote, President Barack Obama maintained that the legislation is fully paid for and will reduce the nation's long-term federal deficit.

“Thanks to the hard work of the House, we are just two steps away from achieving health insurance reform in America,” he said. “Now the United States Senate must follow suit and pass its version of the legislation. I am absolutely confident it will, and I look forward to signing comprehensive health insurance reform into law by the end of the year.”

During the lengthy hearing Saturday Republicans argued that the bill would cost $1.3 trillion to affect a limited number of Americans, with higher taxes for almost everyone.

Earlier this month, the Republicans had attempted to introduced their own, 230-page health care plan, which they said would result in no job losses – as opposed to the 5.5 million jobs they asserted would be lost with HR 3962 – and would avoid $500 billion in Medicare cuts and prevent $729.5 billion in tax increases, according to a bill summary.

A summary of HR 3962 provided by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce states that HR 3962 would include sliding scale affordability credits, cap annual out-of-pocket spending, create the Health Insurance Exchange, expand Medicaid and improve Medicare by fixing the Part D drug program.

Employers will have the option of providing health insurance coverage for their workers or contributing funds on their behalf or else face a 2-percent penalty; businesses with payroll under $500,000 will be exempt from the employer responsibility requirement.

The Congressional Budget Office released figures estimating a projected net cost of $891 billion over 10 years for the proposed expansions in insurance coverage. HR 3962 is estimated to increase outlays by $672 billion and would increase revenues by $781 billion between 2010 and 2019.

The costs are expected to be partly offset by $167 billion in collections of penalties paid by individuals and employers.

Based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, the bill would result in a net reduction in federal budget deficits of $109 billion over the 2010-19 period, with slight reductions in the federal deficit in the decade after that. However, the office noted that the estimates “ are all subject to substantial uncertainty.”

The Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that HR 3962 will reduce the number of nonelderly people who are not insured by about 36 million, leaving about 18 million people – of which an estimated one third would be unauthorized immigrants – without insurance. The percentage of legal nonelderly residents covered by insurance is estimated to rise from 83 percent to 96 percent.

The Saturday debate over the bill in the House was long and passionate.

“It's not a Republican or a Democratic thing,” but a question of whether America is going to be a healthy nation, said Rep. Charles Rangel (D-New York).

But the aisle between the parties widened into a deep ideological divide over the bill.

Republicans questioning what they said where high costs, an 8-percent inflation rate and, as Rep. John Kline (R-Minnesota) phrased it, “a huge morass” of government bureaucracy contained in the nearly 2,000-page bill. Kline also worried about the “super bureaucrat” who would oversea the creation of these health care benefits.

They also argued against the bill, which they said was not a bipartisan effort.

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House minority leader, said the country has been hit by a “difficult economic shock” over the last year. He said huge government spending efforts like the stimulus bill haven't helped, and said the government was on an “unsustainable” course.

Boehner suggested the health care bill would wreak havoc on the country, saddle citizens with huge debt loads, cost over $1.3 trillion and kill millions of US jobs.

“The American people want us to focus on getting our economy moving again,” said Boehner, who suggested nothing will diminish job prospects more than the bill.

At the same time, he said no attention was being paid to the giant government bureaucracy that will be built to accommodate the bill's mandates.

The American people, Boehner said, want two things from health care reform – lower costs and more choices, but he said HR 3962 accomplishes neither, and actually does the opposite on both counts.

Others raised concerns about the heavy penalties for those who don't follow the new insurance rules. Those who don't comply will be subject to violations of the Internal Revenue Service code which could result in prison and huge penalties.

Democrats said the bill was a historic step and a health care milestone

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said the legislation will make a big difference for many people. She said it will prevent women from being charged more for the same care as men and allow young people to stay on their parents' health insurance until age 27.

The bill, according to Pelosi, was the result of 100 congressional hearings and more than 3,000 town hall meetings nationwide, which she said made it a better bill than a previous health care effort,HR 3200. More than 300 groups have expressed support for the bill, said Pelosi – including the American Medical Association, AARP and the American Cancer Society.

Pelosi also remembered the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, who she said had called health care reform “the great unfinished business of our society,” with the country's character at stake.

North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) spoke in support of the bill, noting in his comments on the House floor that for too long too many Americans have not had access to quality, affordable health care.

He said the bill will remedy that, eliminate co-pays or deductibles for preventive care services, allow people to take their coverage with them, prevent denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions and prevent high medical bills bankrupting families. Thompson said the Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill will reduce the deficit by at least $30 billion over 10 years.

“Now, there’s still a lot more work to be done and we’re going to fix the doctor reimbursement issue to ensure the best access for our seniors in regard to getting health care,” Thompson said. “But today is an historic day for all Americans. It moves us one step closer to quality, affordable health care for all Americans.”

Among the federal agencies that would be responsible for implementing the bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office, are the IRS and Health and Human Services, with each requiring an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion over 10 years to implement the bill.

See Thompson's comments at .

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

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