Wed, Mar 24, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Obama to sign healthcare bill into law

NOW THE HARD SELL In the largest expansion of the US’ social safety net in 40 years, the US president was scheduled to sign off on the controversial bill at the White House

AP , WASHINGTON

A statue of US President Barack Obama sitting in a traditional Indonesian Becak is displayed at an art festival in a mall in Jakarta yesterday. Obama’s scheduled visit to Indonesia was postponed and the White House announced that the trip would now take place in June.

PHOTO: AFP

US President Barack Obama was to bring the curtain down on a year-long drama yesterday and sign into law a landmark healthcare reform bill that was seen as dead just two months ago. Now, he must sell the bill’s merits to a wary US public.

House and Senate Democrats who backed the bill, as well as ordinary Americans whose healthcare struggles have touched Obama, were expected to join him for the ceremony in the White House East Room.

The next act begins tomorrow when Obama visits Iowa to talk about how it will help lower costs for small businesses and families as he continues to sell the overhaul to a public that is deeply divided over the plan.

Republicans, united in opposition, promised to repeal Obama’s redesign of the healthcare system, which they criticized as a costly government takeover impacting one-sixth of the US economy.

Democrats argue that they have delivered on Obama’s promise of change, revamping a system in which the spiraling costs have put healthcare and insurance out of the reach of many Americans.

After a rancorous debate, the House voted 219 to 212 late on Sunday for the 10-year, US$938 billion bill. Not one Republican supported the bill. Some Democrats also voted against it.

The measure, which the Senate passed in December, will extend coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans, reduce federal budget deficits and ban such insurance company practices as denying coverage to people with existing medical problems.

A companion measure sought by House Democrats to make some changes to the main bill was approved 220 to 211 and will go on to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

Republicans plan to offer scores of amendments to slow or change this measure, which Democrats hope to approve as written and send directly to Obama for his signature.

Even so, the healthcare debate will likely continue for months as both parties try to motivate their backers to turn out in huge numbers in the November congressional elections. Republicans hope the polarizing issue will help them retake Congress.

Republican states are already preparing to sue Washington over the constitutionality of the healthcare legislation. Officials in at least 10 states have agreed to file a lawsuit on grounds it violates state sovereignty by mandating that all Americans have some form of health insurance. Experts say the effort will likely fail because the Constitution states that federal law supersedes the states’, but it will keep the issue alive until Election Day.

By this October, consumers should notice some changes. Among them, insurers will be required to keep young adults as beneficiaries on their parents’ health plans until they turn 26 and companies will no longer be allowed to deny coverage to sick children.

A new high-risk pool would offer coverage to uninsured people with medical problems until 2014, when coverage is further expanded. The companion bill includes an election-year rebate later this year for seniors facing high costs for prescription drugs.

By 2014, most Americans will for the first time be required to carry insurance — either through an employer, a government program or by buying it themselves. Those who refuse will face penalties.

Tax credits to help pay for premiums will also start flowing to middle-class working families with annual incomes up to US$88,000 and the Medicaid program will be expanded to cover more low-income people.

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