House Democrats are on track for a Sunday vote on sweeping healthcare legislation that will expand coverage to millions of uninsured while also reducing the federal deficit, leaders said Thursday.
The bill delivers on President Barack Obama's top domestic priority by providing coverage to more than 30 million people now uninsured at a 10-year cost of $940 billion. It does so through a combination of tax credits for middle class households and an expansion of the Medicaid program for low income people.
The No. 2 Democrat in the House said the healthcare package also would reduce the federal deficit by more than $100 billion over its first 10 years — and more than $1 trillion in the second decade.
"I think the momentum is growing for this bill," said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. "The more and more people have looked at this bill...a greater number of people are becoming more comfortable."
The big expansion of coverage would not come until 2014, when new health insurance marketplaces open for business.
In the meantime, the legislation calls for a series of new consumer benefits. Insurers could not deny coverage to children because of a preexisting health problem, nor could they place lifetime dollar caps on the amount of coverage. A new high-risk health insurance pool would provide coverage to uninsured people who can't get private coverage because of health problems.
Once the legislation is fully phased in, most Americans would be required to carry coverage — and insurers would be forbidden from turning down people with health problems, or from charging them more.
Democrats are following a complicated two-track legislative strategy for passing the bill. First, the House will have to approve a Senate bill that many of its Democratic members object to. Then both chambers quickly pass a package of fixes agreed to in negotiations with the White House.
Since the House will vote first, Hoyer said lawmakers are seeking assurances from their Senate counterparts that they have enough votes to pass the follow-up measure as well.
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