This week we saw history. After decades of advocacy, policy and political wrangling, a few steps backward and a few leaps forward, we all watched eagerly as President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into the law. This new law will, over the coming years, fundamentally change the way people in this country access health insurance and health care – it extends Medicaid to millions of Americans, invests billions of dollars in community health centers and the National Health Service Corps, bends the cost-curve down and paves the way for 32 million currently uninsured Americans to get affordable health insurance coverage they can use. The key provisions that impact community health centers in this law are here.
So if health reform is now health law, what is going on right now in the Senate, why does the House need to take another vote, and what is this about a “reconciliation bill” that still needs to get past both chambers and over to the President to sign before health reform is through the legislative process?
When the House voted a few nights ago to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, they also voted to pass a companion bill designed to make a few changes to the base text of the bill, called the Reconciliation Act of 2010 (HR 4872). This bill was part of an agreement the House made with the Senate about what the final health reform package would look like: the House committed to passing the Senate bill, but only if they could make some improvements to it through a companion fix-it bill and then send the fix-bill over to the Senate to pass (through the reconciliation process, which takes only a simple majority of 51 votes). The House brought several improvements into this Reconciliation Bill – provisions to make insurance more affordable, improvements to the federal match rate to states for Medicaid, and an additional $2.5 billion in authorized and appropriated funds for health centers, to bring the Health Center Trust Fund up to a total of $11 billion for health centers over five years.
Needless to say, we here at NACHC are watching this bill very closely. We strongly support the final reform package and we continue to work with health center advocates around the country to ensure the full health reform package becomes law. This week we have seen the Senate debate and vote on amendments to the Reconciliation Bill. We have seen them make a couple of technical changes to the student loan provisions based on the rules of reconciliation, and once the Senate passes the bill we will see the House take up the amended Reconciliation Bill for a final up-or-down vote, possibly as soon as tonight.
The stakes are high and supporters of health reform everywhere are eager for this fix-it bill to be passed and signed into law. The House has acted, the Senate is acting, and very soon the House will take a procedural vote to improve our new health law with additional support for low-income individuals, for states and for our nation’s community health centers. If your Representative voted for the Reconciliation Bill the first time, take a moment today to thank them for their support. And be sure to stay tuned to the NACHC website and blogs as we watch even more history in the making in the coming days!