WASHINGTON, March 22: US President Barack Obama won a decisive victory on Sunday night when Congress passed a historic bill extending health care to tens of millions of uninsured Americans and cracking down on insurance company abuses.
Mr Obama, who 15 years ago saw his mother struggling with medical bills on her death bed because of a health policy that favours the wealthy, on Sunday night left yet another mark on the American history. Already the first coloured president of the western world, he now became the first president to bring health care to more than 32 million uninsured Americans.
Overnight, Mr Obama’s perception changed from a weak to a strong president, from inept to imposing.
Even before the final vote, a Gallup survey reported that by Sunday evening, his popularity had popped back up to 50 per cent from 43 per cent. And former president Bill Clinton has predicted that Mr Obama’s numbers would jump ten percentage points “the minute health care reform passed”.
The vote on the health care overhaul was 219-212, with not a single Republican in the House of Representatives supporting the measure. Now it goes to Mr Obama who intends to sign the bill into law on Tuesday.
“We proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things,” Mr Obama said after the vote. “We proved that this government -- a government of the people and by the people -- still works for the people.”
On Monday, the US media noted that the bill was among the most far-reaching pieces of social legislation in US history, which brings “the most sweeping social reforms since Medicare was enacted in 1965”.
Before the final debate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi locked arms with her Democratic lieutenants to enter the Capitol through a phalanx of angry protesters.
Republicans demonstrators hurled racial slurs at several African American members of Congress as they walked towards the House to vote.
“We will be joining those who established Social Security, Medicare and now, tonight, health care for all Americans,” Speaker Pelosi told House members as she brought to a close a four-hour debate and called for a vote.
“Shame on this body, shame on each and every one of you,” House Republican Leader John Boehner told Democrats as they prepared to vote. “Shame on us.”
But this did not prevent them from voting for the bill, which, for the first time, requires most Americans to purchase insurance or face penalties. Families at incomes of up to $88,000 a year will receive subsidies to pay their premiums.
The bill also expands Medicaid, a health care programme for the poor, providing coverage for incomes up to 133 per cent of the federal poverty level -- $29,327 a year -- for a family of four. Childless adults would be covered for the first time, starting in 2014.
The insurance industry, which spent millions on advertising in their attempt to block the bill, would come under new federal regulation. They would be forbidden from placing lifetime dollar limits on policies, from denying coverage to children because of pre-existing conditions and from cancelling policies when a policy-holder becomes ill.
Parents would be able to keep children up to age 26 on their family insurance plans, three years longer than is now the case.
A new high-risk pool would offer coverage to uninsured people with medical problems until 2014, when the coverage expansion would go into high gear.
The final obstacle to passage was cleared a few hours before the vote, when President Obama and Democratic leaders reached a compromise with anti-abortion lawmakers whose rebellion had left the outcome in doubt.
From the Pakistani perspective.