Amid the political bickering since last June and exaggerated reports that health care insurance reform had died, the U.S. House of Representatives stands on the brink of a series of historic Sunday night votes. Through a process known as ‘reconciliation,’ the House will need to muster 216 yea votes to pass the Senate’s version of health care insurance reform. The first vote will be for the rules governing the debate. Then, a package of “fixes” to the Senate’s version will be voted on. Finally, the vote will be to pass the Senate version with the fixes. If passed, the Senate would then take up the bill next week debating the fixes, but denying Republicans the use of the filibuster. That weapon is often used by the minority party to literally talk a bill to death by debating it endlessly until someone calls for a withdrawal of the measure.
The Senate’s version passed that chamber just before last Christmas and included some Republican support. This route to passage avoids a threatened Republican filibuster in the Senate by accepting the Senate’s version even though it differs with the House’s earlier version. President Obama made it clear in rallies leading up to the vote, he prefers some version of reform rather than no reform. If passed, the bill would become law. The idea of nationally provided health care dates back to the 1798 Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen. A national health insurance plan was first proposed by Theodore Roosevelt, previously a Republican running on the Progressive Party platform, in 1912. More recently, democratic President Harry Truman proposed it, but it was also defeated. Democratic president Lyndon Johnson saw Medicare passed under his administration. That program is a government-run plan that covers seniors over the age of 65, and has been, by all measures, very successful despite some abuses by some payees.
The plan currently under consideration by Congress does not call for a government-run or single payer system. Rather, it bans insurer abuses such as denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, imposing lifetime caps on coverage and dropping people from coverage when they become ill. The House’s earlier version had called for two measures which will probably not appear in this bill: the repeal of the exemption the insurance industry currently enjoys from federal anti-trust laws and a public option.
The plan is projected to cost $940 billion over the next ten years. But, says the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, should cut $130 billion from the federal budget deficit through 2019 and save an additional $1.2 trillion through 2029. The bill enjoys the support of the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and AARP. It has been vehemently opposed by Republicans and conservative talk show pundits who have called the measure socialistic, a term used historically by opponents in previous attempts at passage.