Obama signs health care reform bill

On March 23, President Obama signed into law the controversial health care reform bill, which the House approved March 21, according to The Washington Post. The bill's approval follows a century-long battle to reform the U.S. health care system.

The House passed the bill, which expands coverage to 32 million people and tries to restrain health care costs, by a vote of 219-212. All Republicans voted against the bill.

The measure devotes $875 billion to expanding insurance coverage during the next 10 years; the major changes will come in 2014. About 24 million people without access to affordable coverage in the workplace will be eligible for tax credits to buy insurance on new state-based exchanges. Additionally, nearly everyone who earns less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level—about 16 million people—will become eligible for Medicaid.

Starting in 2014, individuals who refuse to buy insurance will face fines of at least $750 per year, and employers that have more than 50 workers and do not provide coverage also may face significant fines. Significant changes also will be made to Medicare.

The bill's smaller changes, which will take effect in six months, include giving tax credits to small businesses with fewer than 25 employees and average annual wages of up to $50,000 to offset the cost of buying insurance for their employees; mandating insurance companies to cover the full cost of preventative care—including annual physicals and children's immunizations—in all new plans; no longer denying coverage for children with medical conditions; and giving states $5 billion to create high-risk insurance pools to provide affordable coverage to adults with pre-existing conditions.

On March 21, the House also approved a separate package of amendments to the legislation, which the Senate will address this week under a "reconciliation," which protects it from a Republican filibuster.

Compared with the Senate bill, the package would offer more generous subsidies to people eligible for federal help buying insurance; close the gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage, which causes many seniors to pay the full cost of expansive medications; and be funded by increasing Medicare taxes for high earners and imposing a new 3.8 percent Medicare tax on investment income for those families.

Combined with the Senate bill, the reconciliation package would increase the overall cost of expanding insurance coverage to $940 billion during the next 10 years; however, the combined measures also would lower budget deficits by $143 billion by 2019.

Date : 3/26/2010