House Guarantees Health Coverage

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WASHINGTON: House Republicans passed a bill guaranteeing millions of Americans access to health insurance if they lose or leave their jobs. "After years of talking about health care reform we are now, with a new Republican majority, going to enact health care reform," said Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He said the measure provides for "availability and affordability" of insurance for millions who now go without it. The bill assures portability of insurance for workers who leave their jobs, regardless of pre-existing conditions. Supporters say 25 million Americans could be affected. Democrats are criticizing several provisions of the bill, including ceilings on medical malpractice awards and a system of tax-deductible, individual savings accounts to cover medical expenses. The White House says those provisions could cause insurance costs to rise for millions of Americans, while younger, healthy individuals receive a tax break. The Senate will take up a scaled-down version of the bill supported by both parties next month. House Speaker Newt Gingrich indicated Republicans would remove some of the more controversial provisions to avoid a presidential veto. Republicans are hoping to capitalize on the passage in the upcoming election by contrasting their ability to reform health care with President Clinton's failed attempt at universal health coverage.