Raleigh, N.C. — President Barack Obama said Sunday it was time for the Senate to "take the baton" on health care reform after the House passed its plan for overhauling the nation's health care system.
"For years we've been told that this couldn't be done," Obama said in a brief statement from the Rose Garden. "But last night the House proved different."
The Democratic-controlled House on Saturday narrowly passed the far-reaching legislation, 220-215, but the road ahead in the Senate promises to be rocky.
North Carolina senators Kay Hagan and Richard Burr both expressed concern Sunday over paying for the $1.2 trillion bill.
“I think we've got to have health care reform. I think we've got to remember too, that I’ve said from the very beginning that I don't want to do anything that is going to increase our federal deficit,” Democratic Hagan said.
"Rather than lowering costs, the House bill seeks to hide them in the federal budget – and cuts Medicare and raises taxes in an attempt to pay for the government expansion that comes with the bill," Republican Burr said in a statement.
Hagan also pointed out that the House bill is different from the Senate version.
- The House would require employers to provide coverage; the Senate does not.
- The House would pay for the coverage expansion by raising taxes on upper-income earners; the Senate uses a variety of taxes and fees, including a levy on high-cost insurance plans.
- The House plan costs about $1.2 trillion over 10 years; the Senate version is under $900 billion.
Both the House and Senate bills gradually would extend coverage to nearly all Americans by providing government subsidies to help pay premiums. The measures would bar insurers' practices such as charging more to those in poor health or denying them coverage altogether.
All Americans would be required to carry health insurance, either through an employer, a government plan or by purchasing it on their own.
To keep down costs, the government subsidies and consumer protections don't take effect until 2013. During the three-year transition, both bills would provide $5 billion in federal dollars to help get coverage for people with medical problems who are turned down by private insurers.
Both House and Senate would expand significantly the federal-state Medicaid health program for low-income people.
The majority of people with employer-provided health insurance would not see changes. The main beneficiaries would be some 30 million people who have no coverage at work or have to buy it on their own. The legislation would create a federally regulated marketplace where they could shop for coverage.
The Senate is not likely to jump ahead this week on health care. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will keep meeting with senators to see if he can work out a political formula that will give him not only the 60 votes needed to begin debate, but the 60 needed to shut off discussion and bring the bill to a final vote.