Democrats declared victory in the battle for healthcare reform on Saturday evening, passing the Affordable Healthcare for America Act by 220-215. The vote cleared the way for the Senate to begin its debate on the proposed reform.
The Affordable Healthcare for America Act will expand coverage to millions of uninsured individuals as well as placing tough new restrictions on the insurance industry. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi likened the victory to the passage of the Social Security legislation in 1935 and Medicare 30 years later.
“It provides coverage for 96% of Americans. It offers everyone, regardless of health or income, the peace of mind that comes from knowing they will have access to affordable healthcare,” said Rep. John Dingell, the 83 year old representative from Michigan.
The legislation would require most Americans to carry insurance and provide federal subsidies to those who otherwise could not afford it. Large companies would have to offer coverage to their employees, and both would be slapped with penalties if they defied the government’s mandates.
Insurance industry practices such as denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions would be banned, and insurers would no longer be able to charge higher premiums on the basis of gender or medical history. In a further slap, the industry would lose its exemption from federal antitrust restrictions on price gouging, bid rigging and market allocation.
The Democratic side of the House erupted into cheers when the bill gained the 218 majority votes. When the bill was officially gavelled by Pelosi, even louder cheers were heard.
The bill drew the votes of 219 Democrats and Rep. Joseph Cao, a first-term Republican who holds an overwhelmingly Democratic seat in New Orleans. Opposed were 176 Republicans and 39 Democrats.
The passing of the bill in the House has marked a historic change. The bill will now proceed to the Senate, where the next vote will be held. Both bills from the House and Senate will then go to committee where the final decision will be made. The President will have 10 days to sign a bill into law once it reaches his desk.
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