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Late Sunday night, in an historic but narrow vote, the House of Representatives passed the healthcare reform bill that had been approved by the Senate in December. Republicans unanimously voted against it and 34 Democrats also voted nay. Nonetheless, the 219-212 majority vote means the bill will now be sent to President Barack Obama, who hailed its passage as "a victory for the American people."
What does the legislation mean for you? If you already have insurance through your company, you can keep it. But if you're currently uninsured because you have a pre-existing condition or can't afford the premiums, the bill should help you get coverage. The White House says the legislation will help provide coverage for about 31 million of the more than 45 million estimated Americans who are uninsured.
To make insurance more affordable, the federal government will offer subsidies to people making less than $43,000 a year and families making less than $88,000 a year. Under the law, insurance companies will also be banned from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions this year and to adults with pre-existing conditions within four years (they can get subsidized coverage until then). Starting this year, adult children may remain on their parents policies until age 26 and insurers will be prohibited from canceling people's policies if they get sick.
If you're on Medicaid, you should enjoy more benefits too. And if you're low-income but making too much to get Medicaid, you may soon be eligible as well. Coverage for low-income Americans will be greatly expanded under the bill. And the so-called "doughnut hole" in prescription drug coverage will be closed within the decade. In the meantime, consumers who hit the gap in coverage would receive a $250 rebate this year and a 50-percent discount on brand-name drugs in 2011.
How will all this be paid for? In 2013, individuals making more than $200,000 annually, and families with an annual income above $250,000, will face new taxes and higher contribution requirements to the Medicare program. Insurance companies will also face new taxes. And Americans who do not obtain health insurance could face a federal penalty starting in 2014. The current plan would cost an estimated $940 billion, but the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said on March 18 that it could cut the federal deficit by $138 billion over 10 years.
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