obama smokingThe US House of Representatives has passed the trillion-dollar Health Reform Bill that will overhaul nearly every facet of the American medical industry and health services. President Obama is expected to quickly sign the bill into law. The health reform bill contains some very unpopular measures that lawmakers have agreed to amend. The Senate will be able to make changes to the House bill in a procedure known as reconciliation. No Republican voted in favor of the bill and 34 Democrats voted against.

The law would extend insurance coverage to an estimated 32 million Americans, impose new taxes on high-income earners, provide tax breaks and subsides for others, and considerably toughen the regulatory regime under which insurance companies operate.

The law will require insurance companies to provide coverage without regard for preexisting conditions or gender; and will create a system of fines for persons who fail or refuse to obtain health coverage.

This was a major political victory in President Obama’s year-long battle for health reform. Bitterly opposed to the end, it constitutes the biggest expansion of federal health care guarantees since the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid more than four decades ago, and represents a significant step towards the goal of universal coverage sought by every Democratic president since Harry Truman.

The rare Sunday vote occurred after a long weekend of intense negotiations between the White House, House leaders and individual congressmen. Obama traveled to Capitol Hill Saturday to make a last-minute plea to the entire House Democratic caucus. He spent much of the last week trying to personally convince dozens of members.

Anti-abortion rights activists were reassured by a last-minute promise of an executive order from Obama, that the provisions in the health care bill will restrict federal funding for abortion.

Republicans failed to stop the Democratic health care initiative despite utilizing almost every weapon in their legislative arsenal. GOP leaders repeatedly have warned the plan will lead to a government takeover of America’s private employer-based health care system.

Key provision:

  • Medicaid will be significantly expanded, ensuring coverage to those earning up to 133 percent of the poverty level, or just over $29,000 for a family of four.
  • Individuals are required to purchase health insurance coverage or face a fine of up to $750 or 2 percent of their income — whichever is greater. It includes a hardship exemption for poorer Americans.
  • Companies with more than 50 employees that don’t provide coverage are required to pay a fee of $750 per worker if any of its employees rely on government subsidies to purchase coverage. The compromise package would drop the individual fine to $695 or 2.5 percent of income, whichever is greater. The fine on companies failing to provide coverage would jump to $2,000 per employee.
  • Federally funded abortion coverage for people purchasing insurance through the exchanges will be banned under the bill now passed by Congress. Exceptions will be made in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother. Individuals receiving federal assistance who want abortion coverage will have to purchase the coverage using private funds.
  • Illegal immigrants will be barred from buying insurance in the health insurance exchanges.
  • Parents will be entitled to keep their children on their health insurance plans until age 26.
  • A major student loan reform measure that ends the practice of having private banks offer student loans and would expand direct lending from the government.

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