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Health Reform Bill Picks Up Endorsements as House Nears Vote

BY Lea Winerman  November 5, 2009 at 1:44 PM EST

Nancy Pelosi introduces House health reform bill; Getty Images

NewsHour health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser talked to Mary Agnes Carey of Kaiser Health News for a preview of the House floor debate, which is scheduled for Saturday:

In other developments Thursday, the AARP, the nation’s largest association of people over the age of 50, announced its support for the $1.2 trillion bill, which would extend coverage to 36 million people over 10 years.

The group said the bill would strengthen Medicare, the government-run health care program for the elderly, and help seniors afford prescription drugs.

“We can say with confidence that it meets our priorities for protecting Medicare, providing more affordable health insurance for 50 to 64-year-olds, and reforming the health care system,” said Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president of the 40-million-member group.

Separately, the American Medical Association, which represents doctors, endorsed the measure as well.

“[The legislation] is not the perfect bill, and we will continue to advocate for changes, but it goes a long way toward expanding access to high-quality affordable health coverage for all Americans, and it would make the system better for patients and physicians,” AMA President James Rohack said in a statement.

President Barack Obama appeared at the daily White House press briefing to react to the endorsements.

“We are closer to passing this reform than ever before,” he said. “Now that the doctors and medical professionals of America are standing with us, now that the organizations charged with looking out for the interests of seniors are standing with us, we are even closer.”

The endorsements come just two days before a tentative Saturday vote in the House.

As the vote nears, however, Democrats continue to wrangle over several crucial last minute details.

Chief among the remaining sticking points is how far the bill would go to restrict the use of federal money to pay for abortions. Under the House plan, insurance plans offered through federally subsidized exchanges could cover abortion, but insurance companies would be asked to separate subsidies from private premiums and co-pays, using only funds from the latter to cover abortions.

While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi supports abortion rights, as many as 40 House Democrats have threatened to oppose the bill without tighter restrictions on abortion, The New York Times reported.

Not a single Republican is expected to vote for the plan, so in order for the measure to pass Democrats will need to secure at least 218 votes from their 258-member caucus.

“I think it’s going to be close,” House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer said of the vote, while expressing confidence that it would pass. President Obama plans to visit Capitol Hill on Friday to address House Democrats in a final push for his top domestic priority.

As Democrats worked to secure votes, thousands of opponents rallied against the plan at the U.S. Capitol. Protesters chanted, “Kill the Bill” as they awaited speeches by Republican leaders, the Associated Press reported. The event’s organizer, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., has tagged the protest the “Super Bowl of Freedom.”

“Quite simply the Republicans don’t have enough votes to kill this bill,” Bachmann said, according to the Washington Post. “We knew we were limited. But what we knew was unlimited were the voices of persuasion of the American people.”

The Online NewsHour spoke with some of the protestors today. Listen below:

 

The House bill would require individuals to buy insurance and all but the smallest employers to offer coverage to its workers. The bill would help individuals pay for insurance through subsidies, and by establishing a federally-run insurance program to compete with private insurers.

If the measure passes the House, the next step is for the Senate to vote on its own version. President Obama has said he would like to sign a bill before the end of the year, however Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has signaled that deadline may not be possible.