Obama makes history with the health-care plan passed by the House

By Irene Gimeno

Barack Obama’s healthcare legislation passed by the House of Representatives on November 7 aims to provide with medical insurance coverage for the 96% of the American population.

The project was supported in Washington by 219 Democrats -39 opposed it- and only one Republican vote, that of Anh Cao, the Representative of Louisiana. Some of the members of the Democratic Party who voted for the bill argued that it was a step forward but that they expected to see it improved during the negotiations with the Senate (both chambers have to recognise the bill for the final approval).

The vote “came on the third anniversary of the 2006 Democratic takeover of the House and the passage moves the bill well beyond the health care overhaul attempted by President Bill Clinton in 1993”. President Obama said at the Capitol that the Representatives should “answer the call of history”, while trying to persuade the lawmakers on the day of the vote; however, his appeal did not convince the opposition, which responded to the bill with an almost unanimous rejection.

The Congress also rejected the Republicans’ lower-budget plan, which was said to be more “financially responsible” by the authors, since the cost of the new project is been put at $900bn over 10 years, and other sources even reckon it will not come cheaper than $1,2tn –paid through new fees and taxes.

The vote has been described as “a significant step towards the Obama administration’s goal of extending health coverage to millions of people lacking it”, specifically, 36 million more people will benefit from the plan, which would mean that 96% of the Americans will have health insurance. “This is our moment to revolutionize health care in this country”, declared George Miller, Democrat of California and one of the authors of the bill.

So far, the American government has only provided coverage for “the poor, elderly and military veterans”; therefore the aim is to force Americans to have medical insurance “provide several subsidies to those who otherwise could not afford it”. Big companies will provide their workers with insurance, so the result will be a government-regulated health insurance system.

The measure would also respond to the alarming news of the United States Census Bureau, that the figure of American citizens without health insurance increased from $45,7 million in 2007 to $46,3 in 2008 due to unemployment and recession, which shows that the medical system cannot depend exclusively on private funding.

John Dingell, a Representative who has pursued the plan to be passed over five decades, happily stated that the bill brings “peace of mind to everyone, regardless of health or income”, because everyone will be able to ask for assistance whenever they need it.

Nevertheless, the bill has taken a lot of negotiations to be passed. One of the most controversial issues in it is abortion and to what extend it will be covered by the medical insurance plan. Members from both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party had complained about the possibility of abortion being covered by the plan, so the House speaker Nancy Pelosi, known for her campaign pro-abortion rights, had to allow the opponents “to propose tight restrictions barring any insurance plan that is purchased with government subsidies from covering abortions” for the discontent of the abortion rights defenders. Meanwhile, the American religious community was campaigning against the possibility of a final bill with abortion concessions.

The final verdict will be soon given by the Senate, where the Democrats will present their plan. If it is finally approved, it will constitute a radical reform from the actual plan and a major achievement for American society in terms of public benefits.