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An Abortion Deal, and the House Health Reforms Pass

After roughly 12 hours of debate — and no absence of GOP stalling — the House late last night passed an $894 billion proposal that would forever change the way the nation’s health care system operates. The vote was 220 to 215 in the lower chamber, where only a simple majority is required to pass most bills. Only one Republican, Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (La.), voted in favor of the measure — not a strong bipartisan showing, but enough to steal the Republicans’ claim that they were united in opposition to the bill.

Right up until Saturday, passage was still in doubt due to resistence from conservative-leaning Democrats, who wanted stronger assurances that the proposal wouldn’t allow federal funding of abortions. Behind Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), those conservatives urged a floor vote on an amendment explicitly prohibiting such funding. They got it. And it passed 240 to 194.

That didn’t please the abortion-rights crowd — “to force insurance companies to deny a woman access to a legal procedure, would be a very disturbing step backwards,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) just before he voted no – but it did clear the way to passage of the overall bill.

The Washington Post hits the highlights of the legislation:

Starting next year, private insurers could no longer deny anyone coverage based on preexisting conditions, place lifetime limits on coverage or abandon people when they become ill. Insurers would be required to disclose and justify proposed premium increases to regulators, and could not remove adult children younger than 27 from their parents’ family policies.

For the elderly, the group that has been most skeptical of Obama’s initiative, the House package would immediately offer discounts on prescription drugs and reduce a gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage, closing it entirely by 2019. Uninsured people who cannot get coverage could join temporary high-risk insurance pools, and unemployed workers would be permitted to keep their COBRA benefits until the public plan and insurance exchanges started in 2013.

Most Democrats — beginning with President Obama — hailed the bill’s passage as a watershed moment in the nation’s history. The proposal, Obama said, “would finally make real the promise of quality, affordable health care for the American people.”

Not all Democrats were convinced. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who voted against the measure, said it represents a giveaway to the same insurance industry that’s helped make the health care system dysfunctional. “We cannot fault the insurance companies for being what they are,” he said. “But we can fault legislation in which the government incentivizes the perpetuation, indeed the strengthening, of the for-profit health insurance industry, the very source of the problem.”

The ball is now in the Senate’s court, where lawmakers are expected to begin debate on their own enormous health reform proposal this month. That floor procedure, though, will take much longer than a single day.

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