US House repeals Obamacare; bill faces higher hurdles in Senate
WASHINGTON – The United States House of Representatives narrowly approved a bill to repeal Obamacare today, handing Republican President Donald Trump a victory that could prove short-lived as the healthcare legislation heads into a likely tough battle in the Senate.
The vote to repeal former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement, which enabled 20 million more Americans to get health insurance, was Trump’s biggest legislative win since he took office in January, putting him on a path to fulfilling one of his key campaign promises as well as a seven-year quest by Republican lawmakers.
With the 217-213 vote, Republicans obtained just enough support to push the legislation through the House, sending it to the Senate for consideration. No Democrats voted for the bill.
The legislation is by no means sure thing in the Senate, where the Republicans hold a slender 52-seat majority in the 100-seat chamber and where only a few Republican defections could sink it.
Despite holding the White House and controlling both houses of Congress, Republicans have found that overturning Obamacare is politically fraught, in part because of voter fears that many people will lose their health insurance as a result. Republicans have long criticised Obamacare as government overreach.
Within an hour of the vote, Trump celebrated with House lawmakers in the White House Rose Garden.
“I went through two years of campaigning and I’m telling you, no matter where I went, people were suffering so badly with the ravages of Obamacare,” Trump said. “We are going to get this passed through the Senate. I am so confident.”
While the bill’s fate in the Senate is uncertain, its House passage could boost Trump’s hopes of pushing through other big ticket items on his agenda, such as tax reform.
The failure of two previous efforts on the healthcare legislation had raised questions about how much Republicans could work together to help Trump fulfil his campaign pledges.
“Anything that they (the Republicans) get done, that they accomplish, popular or unpopular, will show that they have the ability to make progress and to get things done and work together,” said Randy Frederick, vice president trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas.
“This puts the idea of tax reform a little bit closer to reality, simply because it’s shown that they have figured out a way to negotiate and work together,” he added.
Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid, the government insurance programme for the poor, provided income-based tax credits to help the poor buy insurance on individual insurance markets set up by the law, and required everyone to buy insurance or pay a penalty.
Republicans have blamed it for driving up healthcare costs and have argued that it has since failed.
The Republican bill, called the American Health Care Act, would repeal most Obamacare taxes, which paid for the law, roll back the Medicaid expansion and slash the programme’s funding, repeal the penalty for not purchasing insurance and replace the law’s tax credits with flat age-based credits.
Obamacare prevented insurers from charging those with pre-existing conditions higher rates, a common practice before its implementation. It also required them to cover ten essential health benefits such as maternity care and prescription drugs.
The Republican bill passed today would allow states to opt out of those provisions. While insurers could not deny people insurance because of pre-existing conditions, they would be allowed to charge them as much as they want.
In an analysis released today, healthcare consultancy and research firm Avalere Health said the Republican bill would cover only five per cent of enrolees with pre-existing conditions in the individual insurance markets.
Republicans have argued that their bill would give people more choice and reduce the role of government. (Reuters)