Obama dilutes health plan to pass first hurdle

US President Obama watered down his legislation for affordable health-care for all Americans to get it passed in the House of Representatives. Now he faces rabid opposition to get it through the US Senate.

The United States is close to the biggest extension to its health-care system in half a century, after Barack Obama’s Affordable Health Care for America Act was passed in the House of Representatives.

The House voted by 220 to 215 to approve the Bill, which would extend health coverage to 96% of Americans – an extra 36 million people. It would still leave about 18 million people without coverage – a symptom of the compromises made to pass the law.

The Bill presented to the House of Representatives ran to 1,990 pages and involves a $US1.05 trillion investment over the next 10 years.

The Bill expands coverage by making more people eligible for Medicaid (the government-funded health safety net) and by offering subsidies to help low-income people buy insurance. It forbids insurance companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

The 160 million Americans who already get coverage through their employer would stay with that insurance. Nearly everyone would be required to get insurance or face a penalty, and businesses would be required to provide coverage or contribute to its cost.

The government would create its own insurance plan – the so-called ‘public option’. The public option was the most contentious element of the Bill, with Republicans universally opposed to more government involvement in health. They were supported by a group of conservative Democrats.

Passionate support and rabid opposition

Obama’s legislation was supported by the American Medical Association, American Association of Retired Persons (AARP – the country’s largest advocacy group for seniors), the American Cancer Society and nurses’ organisations.

The Bill was opposed by every single Republican Senator and Congressperson bar one. As the Bill passed through the House, thousands of conservative protesters rallied outside Capitol Hill chanting ‘Kill the Bill’.

The Bill was shepherded through the House by the Speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi. She described it as ‘a historic opportunity to provide quality health-care for all Americans’.

A Republican leader, John Boemhler of Ohio, called it ‘the greatest threat to freedom I have seen in the 19 years I have been in Washington’.

In the face of such vehement opposition, President Obama immediately moved to maintain the momentum of reform and called on Senators to ‘take up the baton and bring this to the finishing line’ when the Bill faces its difficult passage through the Senate.

Bill garners qualified support from health professionals

AARP Vice-President Nancy LeaMond said the Bill would help seniors pay for their prescription drugs and strengthen Medicare, the government-run health-care program for the elderly.

California Nurses Association Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro gave qualified support for the Bill but flagged an ongoing campaign for more fundamental reform.

‘Proponents of comprehensive reform will never be silent, and never stop working for the real change we most desperately need,’ she said.

Huge step forward for American health

Obama’s new Bill, if passed through the Senate, will:

  • extend coverage to an extra 36 million people. Ninety-six per cent of Americans will now have some form of health coverage;
  • require individuals to buy insurance;
  • require all but the smallest employers to offer health coverage to workers;
  • include a government-run health insurance plan that would compete with private companies.