Latest update: 18/03/2010
- Barack Obama - healthcare reform - USA
Democrats optimistic ahead of key vote on Obama healthcare reform
Democrats unveiled final changes to US President Barack Obama's healthcare reform on Thursday and predicted the House of Representatives would pass the landmark bill on Sunday. The bill would then require approval by the Senate.
By News Wires (text)
REUTERS - Democrats in the House of Representatives on Thursday predicted weekend passage of a sweeping healthcare overhaul that budget analysts said would cut the U.S. deficit over 10 years and dramatically expand health coverage.
President Barack Obama, who was scheduled to leave on a visit to Indonesia and Australia on Sunday, postponed the trip to help round up support on what is expected to be a close vote on his top domestic legislative priority.
House Democratic leaders unveiled the last changes to the overhaul, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated would expand insurance coverage at a cost of $940 billion over 10 years and cut the deficit by $138 billion in the same period through new fees and cost-cutting measures.
At the White House, Obama said the healthcare bill, which has faced solid Republican opposition, represented "the most significant effort to reduce deficits since the Balanced Budget Act" of 1993.
"This is history, and this is progress," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters of the overhaul, which would represent the biggest changes to the $2.5 trillion healthcare system in the last four decades.
After weeks of wrangling over the package to make the numbers come out favorably, House leaders presented the final changes to Democrats at a morning caucus and posted them on the Rules Committee website later on Thursday.
"It took some time but we are very pleased," Pelosi said after the meeting.
The overhaul would extend coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans, the nonpartisan CBO estimated, and ban insurance practices like refusing coverage to those with pre-existing medical conditions.
The bill requires all Americans to have health insurance, but offers subsidies to help low- and middle-income workers pay for it. It also expands Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor.
The favorable CBO preliminary estimate could help Democrats round up the 216 votes they need to pass the overhaul in a vote on Sunday, but Republicans said it showed the revised bill was more of the same.
"Every time a new iteration of the Democrats' healthcare bill is unveiled, the price tag goes up," Senator Jon Kyl, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said.
If the Senate-passed bill is approved by the House on Sunday, it would become law once it is signed by Obama. The final changes unveiled on Thursday would move in a separate bill, which the Senate would take up next week.
Healthcare stocks, as measured by the Morgan Stanley Healthcare Payor Index <.HMO>, rose 2.6 percent on Thursday and outpaced the broader market as investors bet growing delays on the vote raised prospects the bill would not pass.
"These stocks really are a speculators' paradise given the significant uncertainty as to what's going to happen with healthcare reform," said Steve Shubitz, an analyst with Edward Jones who follows big insurance companies.
The final legislative revisions are meant to ease concerns of Obama and House Democrats about the Senate's version of the bill, which had a budget savings of $118 billion over the first 10 years.
The changes would eliminate a controversial Senate deal exempting Nebraska from paying for Medicaid expansion costs, close a "doughnut hole" in prescription drug coverage and change the threshold on a tax on high-cost "Cadillac" insurance plans.
"I don't think I'd call it a Cadillac tax now," said Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "I'd call it a Rolls Royce."
The bill would extend taxes for Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, to unearned income. The CBO report said the final bill would extend Medicare's solvency for nine years and reduce annual growth in Medicare expenditures.
"I think we'll see a lot of people's votes come together in the next few days," Representative Robert Andrews said.