WASHINGTON — When President Obama signed the bill to overhaul the nation’s health system late last month, it set in motion changes that will impact retail pharmacy operators and other health care providers at every level.
After more than a year of rancorous debate, the House of Representatives voted 219-212 in a late night Sunday session to approve health care reform legislation passed by the Senate on Christmas Eve.
The 219 votes were all from Democratic lawmakers, as Republicans were unanimous in their opposition to the plan, which will mandate that people buy health insurance. Thirty-four Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the bill.
The health care bill will require most Americans to have health insurance and will add 16 million people to the Medicaid rolls. It will also subsidize private coverage for low- and middle-income people, at a cost to the government of $938 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
The bill will require many employers to offer coverage to employees or pay a penalty. Each state will create a marketplace, or exchange, where consumers without coverage can shop for insurance that meets federal standards.
The CBO estimates that the bill will provide coverage to 32 million uninsured people but still leave 23 million uninsured in 2019. One-third of those remaining uninsured will be illegal immigrants.
The new costs, according to the CBO, would be more than offset by savings in Medicare and by new taxes and fees, including a tax on high-cost, employer-sponsored health plans and a tax on the investment income of the most affluent Americans.
Democrats hailed the passage of the health care reform bill as a historic advance in social justice, comparable to the establishment of Medicare and Social Security. Over the next few years, they said, it will lead to near universal coverage. Democrats also said the bill will put pressure on rising health care costs and rein in federal budget deficits.
“This is the Civil Rights Act of the 21st century,” House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D., S.C.) commented right after the House passed the measure.
Despite vows from opponents of health care reform to vote against House members who supported the bill, many lawmakers said backing the overhaul was the right thing to do for the country and for their constituents.
“I voted yes for the nearly 50,000 currently uninsured residents of my district who will now be eligible for health insurance,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat representing the area around San Jose, Calif. “I voted yes for the 6,000 seniors in my district who will no longer be subject to the doughnut hole in Medicare Part D.”
Opponents of the reform measure, however, said the package’s cost of about $940 billion over 10 years was too high and will expand the nation’s budget deficit. They said the plan will leave states with expensive new obligations and weaken Medicare, as well as give the government a huge new role in the health care system.
Passing the legislation, they warned, goes against the wishes of the majority of Americans.
“There are reforms that we can agree upon,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) stated. “But what the American people don’t want is this big government takeover of our health care system — 160 new boards, commissions, mandates, $500 billion in tax increases on an economy that is supposed to be producing jobs, and $500 billion being stolen from Medicare in order to fund a new government entitlement program. They want no part of this.”
Republicans have said that they will explore the possibilities of either repealing the legislation, challenging its constitutionality or blocking its provisions in the states.
In fact, just seven minutes after President Obama signed the health care reform bill into law, attorneys general from 13 states filed a lawsuit contending that the measure was unconstitutional because it infringes on the states’ sovereignty by forcing their residents to buy health insurance.
“Congress’ attempt to force Michigan families to buy health insurance — or else — raises serious constitutional concerns,” Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox said. “We will fight to defend the individual rights and freedoms of Michigan citizens against this radical overreach by the federal government.”
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