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House of Representatives passes critical healthcare bill

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-11-08

The US House of Representatives has approved a bill that would introduce sweeping healthcare reform in the US, handing President Barack Obama a crucial victory in the issue that tops his domestic agenda.

The House of Representatives approved a bill Saturday that paves the way for a historic overhaul of healthcare in the US, energising President Barack Obama’s top domestic agenda. The Senate is considering its own bill, that if passed would have to be reconciled with the House’s legislation.

The 10-year, trillion-dollar plan is designed to extend health coverage to the estimated 36 million Americans who are now uninsured.

Lawmakers approved the plan with a 220-215 vote after 12 hours of bitter debating. Democrats cheered and hugged when the 218th vote was recorded, and again when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pounded the gavel and announced the results.

“Thanks to the hard work of the House, we are just two steps away from achieving health insurance reform in America. Now the United States Senate must follow suit and pass its version of the legislation,” Obama said in a statement after the vote.

“I am absolutely confident it will, and I look forward to signing comprehensive health insurance reform into law by the end of the year,” he said.

According to France 24 Washington correspondent Guillaume Meyer, the vote was a critical victory for Obama, who is one step to closer to achieving healthcare reform that has eluded other US political leaders for over 40 years.

Massive healthcare overhaul

The proposed law would bring about the biggest changes to the $2.5 trillion US healthcare system, which accounts for one sixth of the country’s economy, since the creation of the Medicare government health programme for the elderly in 1965.

The House bill would create a government-backed insurance plan, popularly known as a "public option," to compete with private firms and would end denial of coverage based on pre-existing medical problems.

Under the White House-backed bill, Americans would have to buy insurance and most employers would have to offer coverage to their workers, though some small businesses would be exempt and the government would offer subsidies.

The United States is the only industrialized democracy that does not ensure that all of its citizens have healthcare coverage.

A divisive issue

Only a single Republican, Representative Joseph Cao of Louisiana, broke party ranks in favour of the House bill, while 39 Democrats voted against it.

Republicans criticised the programme’s $1 trillion price tag, new taxes on the wealthy and what they said was excessive government interference in the private health sector.

“This bill bulldozes individual liberty and puts the government just where it doesn't belong," said Republican Representative Sam Johnson.

The fight to remake healthcare now shifts to the US Senate, where its fate remained unclear amid a tense intra-party dispute among Democrats anchored on what role the US government should play.

The issue has stalled for weeks in the Senate as Democratic leader Harry Reid searches for an approach that can win the 60 votes he needs.

Date created : 2009-11-08

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