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Congress passes landmark health care bill


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WASHINGTON – Summoned to success by President Barack Obama, the Democratic-controlled Congress approved historic legislation Sunday night extending health care to tens of millions of uninsured Americans and cracking down on insurance company abuses, a climactic chapter in the century-long quest for near universal coverage.

Widely viewed as dead two months ago, the Senate-passed bill cleared the House on a 219-212 vote. Republicans were unanimous in opposition, joined by 34 dissident Democrats.

Obama watched the vote in the White House's Roosevelt Room with Vice President Joe Biden and about 40 staff aides. When the long sought 216th vote came in — the magic number needed for passage — the room burst into applause and hugs. An exultant president exchanged a high-five with his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

A second, smaller measure — making changes in the first — was lined up for passage later in the evening. It would then go to the Senate, where Democratic leaders said they had the votes to pass it.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the legislation awaiting the president's approval would extend coverage to 32 million Americans who lack it, ban insurers from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions and cut deficits by an estimated $138 billion over a decade. If realized, the expansion of coverage would include 95 percent of all eligible individuals under age 65.

For the first time, most Americans would be required to purchase insurance, and face penalties if they refused. Much of the money in the bill would be devoted to subsidies to help families at incomes of up to $88,000 a year pay their premiums.

Far beyond the political ramifications — a concern the president repeatedly insisted he paid no mind — were the sweeping changes the bill held in store for millions of individuals, the insurance companies that would come under tougher control and the health care providers, many of whom would face higher taxes.

Crowds of protesters outside the Capitol shouted "just vote no" in a futile attempt to stop the inevitable taking place inside a House packed with lawmakers and ringed with spectators in the galleries above.

Across hours of debate, House Democrats predicted the larger of the two bills, costing $940 billion over a decade, would rank with other great social legislation of recent decades.

"We will be joining those who established Social Security, Medicare and now, tonight, health care for all Americans, said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, partner to Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in the grueling campaign to pass the legislation.

"This is the civil rights act of the 21st century," added Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the top-ranking black member of the House.

Republicans readily agreed the bill would affect everyone in America, but warned repeatedly of the burden imposed by more than $900 billion in tax increases and Medicare cuts combined.

"We have failed to listen to America," said Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, leader of a party that has vowed to carry the fight into the fall's midterm elections for control of Congress.

The final obstacle to the bill's passage was cleared at mid-afternoon when Obama and Democratic leaders reached a compromise with anti-abortion lawmakers whose rebellion had left the outcome in doubt. The White House announced he would issue an executive order pledging that no federal funds would be used for elective abortion, satisfying Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan and a handful of like-minded lawmakers.

A spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed skepticism that the presidential order would satisfy the church's objections.

Republican abortion foes also said Obama's proposed order was insufficient, and when Stupak sought to counter them, a shout of "baby killer" could be heard coming from the Republican side of the chamber.

The measure would also usher in a significant expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor. Coverage would be required for incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, $29,327 a year for a family of four. Childless adults would be covered for the first time, starting in 2014.

The insurance industry, which spent millions on advertising trying to block the bill, would come under new federal regulation. They would be forbidden from placing lifetime dollar limits on policies, from denying coverage to children because of pre-existing conditions and from canceling policies when a policyholder becomes ill.

Parents would be able to keep children up to age 26 on their family insurance plans, three years longer than is now the case.

A new high-risk pool would offer coverage to uninsured people with medical problems until 2014, when the coverage expansion would go into high gear.

For the president, the events capped an 18-day stretch in which he traveled to four states and lobbied more than 60 wavering lawmakers in person or by phone to secure passage of his signature domestic issue. According to some who met with him, he warned that the bill's demise could cripple his still-young presidency.

After more than a year of political combat, Democrats piled superlative upon superlative across several hours of House debate.

Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York read a message President Franklin Roosevelt sent Congress in 1939 urging lawmakers to address the needs of those without health care, and said Democrat Harry Truman and Republican Richard Nixon had also sought to broaden insurance coverage.

Republicans attacked the bill without let-up, warning it would harm the economy while mandating a government takeover of the health care system.

"The American people know you can't reduce health care costs by spending $1 trillion or raising taxes by more than one-half trillion dollars. The American people know that you cannot cut Medicare by over one-half trillion dollars without hurting seniors," said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich.

"And, the American people know that you can't create an entirely new government entitlement program without exploding spending and the deficit."

Obama has said often that presidents of both parties have tried without success to achieve national health insurance, beginning with Theodore Roosevelt early in the 20th century.

The 44th president's quest to succeed where others have failed seemed at a dead end two months ago, when Republicans won a special election for a Massachusetts Senate seat, and with it, the votes to prevent a final vote.

But the White House, Pelosi and Reid soon came up with a rescue plan that required the House to approve the Senate-passed measure despite opposition to many of its provisions, then have both houses pass a fix-it measure incorporating numerous changes.

To pay for the changes, the legislation includes more than $400 billion in higher taxes over a decade, roughly half of it from a new Medicare payroll tax on individuals with incomes over $200,000 and couples over $250,000. A new excise tax on high-cost insurance policies was significantly scaled back in deference to complaints from organized labor.

In addition, the bills cut more than $500 billion from planned payments to hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and other providers that treat Medicare patients. An estimated $200 billion would reduce planned subsidies to insurance companies that offer a private alternative to traditional Medicare.

The insurance industry warned that seniors would face sharply higher premiums as a result, and the Congressional Budget Office said many would return to traditional Medicare as a result.

The subsidies are higher than those for seniors on traditional Medicare, a difference that critics complain is wasteful, but insurance industry officials argue goes into expanded benefits.

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Not an American but I've been following this whole process with great interest and I was so happy for Nancy Pelosi tonight. She worked like hell to get this done.

The Repubs are vile disgusting creatures. Shouting "baby killer" at Bart Stupak!?

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Not an American but I've been following this whole process with great interest and I was so happy for Nancy Pelosi tonight. She worked like hell to get this done.

The Repubs are vile disgusting creatures. Shouting "baby killer" at Bart Stupak!?

Considering that some of the protesters spat on members of Congress and hurled racial and homophobic slurs at them, it's not that much of a surprise.

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For the first time, most Americans would be required to purchase insurance, and face penalties if they refused. Much of the money in the bill would be devoted to subsidies to help families at incomes of up to $88,000 a year pay their premiums.

As someone whose workplace doesn't offer insurance and I have to pay my own, I'm curious to see what this will mean for the fact that my premiums have gone up every year and I am now paying about $1,094.00/month (as an individual, and that's over $100/month increase from last year)--and it doesn't cover dental or vision. And I don't make anywhere near $88,000.

One state rep says the bill is good for us, another says it's bad. I don't know what to think yet so I guess I'll know when I see it in practice.

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I'm so glad this has happened. Poor rush Limbaugh is crapping himself right about now, and he doesn't even have a wife to wash out his poo-poo undies!

Maybe he has a rentboy that will. :ph34r: I saw an interview with that guy recently and the way he dressed, he spoke, everything just screamed closet case.

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Maybe he has a rentboy that will. :ph34r: I saw an interview with that guy recently and the way he dressed, he spoke, everything just screamed closet case.

I sure as hell hope not. I would never claim that SOB as any of MY people! Applcin... I wouldn't pay THAT if I were you. I'd get a low cost catastrophic policy with a VERY high deductible, and SAVE the rest of your money, you'd most likely come out way ahead. And don't do those HSA's, either.. I found out you HAVE to use the money you save for health care... if you just put it in the bank, you can use it for whatever, whenever.

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You sort of know what to expect with Rush. I wasn't expecting quite such direct hostility from the crowds towards the minorities in Congress -- I guess I should have. The Democrats were going to lose a lot of seats in November whether they cowered and let this fail or pulled together and let this pass. At least they realized that. I'm glad Pelosi and John Lewis walked past the crowd and didn't go in some other exit.

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As someone whose workplace doesn't offer insurance and I have to pay my own, I'm curious to see what this will mean for the fact that my premiums have gone up every year and I am now paying about $1,094.00/month (as an individual, and that's over $100/month increase from last year)--and it doesn't cover dental or vision. And I don't make anywhere near $88,000.

One state rep says the bill is good for us, another says it's bad. I don't know what to think yet so I guess I'll know when I see it in practice.

Here in Australia all Australian citizen's are covered under medicare from the moment they are born, as well as Permanent citizens.

No workplace here has health insurance that an employee has to join.

If we want extra health insurance we go out and get it ourselves and we choice which provider we want and what sort of cover we want.

I pay about $250.00 a month as single person and that includes Hospital, Dental, Vision, Med's that are over a certian amount and some medical appliaces.

There is even a web site that we use that can help us find the right provider.

http://www.iselect.com.au/

Some of the provider's also offer both Car & House insurance.

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Here in Australia all Australian citizen's are covered under medicare from the moment they are born, as well as Permanent citizens.

No workplace here has health insurance that an employee has to join.

If we want extra health insurance we go out and get it ourselves and we choice which provider we want and what sort of cover we want.

I pay about $250.00 a month as single person and that includes Hospital, Dental, Vision, Med's that are over a certian amount and some medical appliaces.

There is even a web site that we use that can help us find the right provider.

http://www.iselect.com.au/

Some of the provider's also offer both Car & House insurance.

I don't understand why the US can't have a medical system as cheap as this and as simple to understand. I know millionaires who do not have dental insurance. As a matter of fact, I don't know that I know anyone with dental insurance.

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For the first time, most Americans would be required to purchase insurance, and face penalties if they refused. Much of the money in the bill would be devoted to subsidies to help families at incomes of up to $88,000 a year pay their premiums.

Ugh I hate this bill already. There are people like me who can't afford insurance cause it's so damn expensive. Maybe if they make it affordable people like me could get it.

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I'm coming back to the U.S. in July a starving college grad (with an MA, but still) who will be $25,000 debt. I couldn't afford insurance before when I had a full time job and made double digits an hour and had NO debt. I sure as h*ll won't be able to afford it when I get back unless there's a real reduction of the cost. Otherwise, they can penalize my ass all they want, it's not going to do anything. LOL

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