Sandra Emerson, Staff Writer
Created: 03/18/2010 10:14:23 PM PDT

House Democrats on Thursday released their final version of the $940 billion health care overhaul bill with plans to vote on it as early as Sunday.

The 10-year plan would provide coverage to 32 million people now uninsured through a combination of tax credits for middle class households and an expansion of the Medicaid program for low-income people.

The bill would restructure one-sixth of the economy, covering 95 percent of eligible Americans, in the biggest expansion of the social safety net since Medicare was created in 1965. It would also impose new obligations on individuals and businesses.

Beginning in 2014, most Americans would be required to carry health insurance. Medium-sized and large companies that don’t provide coverage for their workers would face stiff financial penalties.

Republicans on Thursday called for a vote preventing the House from passing the Senate-passed bill without a roll-call vote. They lost 222-203.

By pushing the bill through without casting a vote the Democrats are avoiding being held accountable, said Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas.

“They think the American people aren’t smart enough to get this. I have news for them. I know the people whom I represent all the way across the board, Democrats and Republicans alike get it and they believe there should be a clean up or down vote,” Dreier said.

Democrats are following a complicated two-track legislative strategy for passing the bill. First, the House will have to approve a Senate bill to which many of its Democratic members object. Then both chambers will quickly pass a package of fixes agreed to in negotiations with the White House.

Since the House will vote first, Democratic leaders are seeking assurances from their Senate counterparts that they have enough votes to pass the follow-up measure as well.

“The health care legislation we will pass this Sunday finally gives American families and small business control over the health care decisions that are best for them,” said Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino.

Baca said health care reform is needed now more than ever.

“My constituents cannot wait any longer for health care reform,” he said. “This weekend, I am confident we will pass historic legislation that moves our nation forward.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the total 10-year cost of expanding coverage at $940 billion. The nonpartisan analysts said the legislation would reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over its first 10 years. Democratic leaders said the deficit would be cut by $1.2 trillion in the second decade.

Hospitals and doctors, drug companies and insurers would gain millions of new paying customers, but they would also have to adjust to major changes. Medicare cuts would force hospitals to operate more efficiently or risk going out of business, but seniors would see the coverage gap in their prescription benefits gradually eliminated.

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