House passes healthcare bill

Recent graduates will feel the effects of the new healthcare bill. (credit: Travis Wolfe/Photo Staff) Recent graduates will feel the effects of the new healthcare bill. (credit: Travis Wolfe/Photo Staff)

On Saturday, Nov. 7, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Health Care Reform Bill, H.R. 3932, in the late hours of the night under the full name “Affordable Health Care for America Act.” The margin was quite narrow, with the votes 220 to 215. Specifically, only one Republican voted for the bill, Joseph Cao of Louisiana, and 39 Democrats voted against it. The purpose of the reform is to attempt to provide coverage for the more than 45 million Americans without health insurance.

Though the reform bill has passed the House, the Senate must now vote on its own reform bill, as both houses of Congress must approve their own bills before a single bill from both houses can be presented to the President. The process can be complicated — each bill must travel through committees in the houses before the actual vote, similar to the one on the night of Nov. 7 in the House of Representatives.

The bill has inspired controversy throughout the country, especially along party lines. There are several key features of the bill that can be found within the approximately 2000-page text. If enacted in its current state, it would create the Health Choices Administration, an independent agency with a Health Choices Commissioner as leader. An additional Health Insurance Exchange program through the Health Choices Administration would provide health care coverage to Americans, including a public option provided through the government.

“The public option is a proposed government health care plan that would be designed to compete with regular insurance companies,” said Aaron Marks, a senior business administration major, who noted a possible flaw in that “the government does not have [to] turn a profit to stay in business, while insurance companies do.”

The bill includes a prohibition against insurance companies’ denying coverage to those with preexisting conditions and forbids an “essential benefits” package from implementing annual or lifetime coverage limits. A 5.4 percent tax would be applied to single individuals earning over $500,000 a year and to couples earning over $1 million a year, while another tax could affect those without any coverage and employers who fail to cover their employees. The plan itself could reportedly cost over one trillion dollars, adding to the United States’ debt.

As the Senate prepares to vote on its own health care reform bill, there are several obstacles in its way, mainly differences between the two houses and filibuster attempts. The senior director of health care services and initiatives in the Heinz College, David Dausey, explained that “the largest challenge facing the passing of any legislation will happen in the House-Senate Conference Committee, where leaders from the House and the Senate will have to iron out the differences between the bill that was just passed in the House and whatever bill gets passed in the Senate.”

If the bill is passed within the next year, it would not take full effect until 2013, the year in which most first-years will graduate. Thus, the effects of the bill will mostly be felt by those who have recently graduated from Carnegie Mellon and are entering the job market. Primarily, students would be able to expect medical coverage with their first jobs, which is not necessarily true today. The maximum age for dependents to remain on their parents’ insurance plan is usually 25 or 26.

Martin Gaynor, an economics professor in the Heinz College, said, “One group it very likely would affect is recent college graduates.... It is a very common situation to graduate from CMU and either not have a job right away or not have a job that has benefits. Most of these people would find ... that they would be much more likely to have insurance after graduating college.”

In the coming weeks, the country must await the decision of the Senate in regard to its health care reform bill.