U.S. President Barack Obama has signed into law sweeping health care reform, capping a year-long struggle with opposition Republicans to change the U.S. health care system.
At the White House Tuesday, Mr. Obama said a host of "desperately needed reforms" will take effect right away, including tax credits for small businesses. He said insurance companies will be barred from dropping people when they get sick or denying coverage for children with pre-existing conditions.
Mr. Obama said the law will enshrine the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.
Vice President Joe Biden called it a "historic day."
Mr. Obama signed the bill into law surrounded by House and Senate leaders from his Democratic Party as well as people who will benefit from the legislation. The measure is intended to extend health insurance coverage to 32 million Americans who currently are without it.
The push for reform triggered emotional debate across the country and was strongly opposed by Republicans in both houses of Congress. The measure passed the House Sunday by a narrow margin (219-to-212), with every Republican and 34 Democrats voting against it.
The $940 billion legislation eventually will provide subsidies for Americans to purchase mandatory private health care insurance, and it bans insurance companies from such practices as denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Sunday's vote was an approval of a bill passed by the U.S. Senate in late December. The House also approved a package of changes to the Senate version.
The Senate will begin debate on those revisions this week. Democratic leaders plan on approving the new measure through a process called reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority to pass.
Senate Republicans vow to offer numerous amendments aimed at blocking passage of the revised bill, while officials in several states have promised to file lawsuits against the measure. They call it unconstitutional and an infringement on state sovereignty.
President Obama plans to fly Thursday to the central U.S. state of Iowa, where he first outlined his health care reform plan as a presidential candidate. He is expected to promote the bill over the next several months to help Democratic lawmakers ahead of congressional elections in November.