U.S. President Barack Obama has signed into law a plan to reform the way Americans pay for health care. The signing follows a contentious year-long debate, with more to come.
Democrats and health reform advocates celebrated in the East Room of the White House Tuesday, as President Obama signed historic legislation to overhaul the U.S. health care system.
"We are done," he said.
Before he signed the bill, Mr. Obama paid tribute to the lawmakers who fought for health reform over the past year, and the legislators and presidents who have advocated it since the early 20th century. "Today, after almost a century of trying; today, after over a year of debate; today, after all the votes have been tallied; health insurance reform becomes law in the United States of America," he said.
The 10-year package, estimated at $940 billion, is meant to extend health insurance to 32 million uninsured Americans. The Obama administration says it will also reduce federal budget deficits and stop insurance companies from denying coverage to people with existing medical problems.
Mr. Obama says it will be four years before the plan fully takes effect, but the system will begin to change this year.
At the festive ceremony, the president acknowledged that this legislation will mark a fundamental change in U.S. domestic policy. "We have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care," he said.
The reform legislation narrowly passed the House of Representatives on Sunday. Opposition Republicans in the House voted unanimously against it.
Republicans regard the plan as a federal takeover of one-sixth of the U.S. economy and an unnecessary intrusion of government into personal medical decisions. They also say it is too costly and that most Americans oppose it.
Health reform is expected to be a major issue in this November's elections for Congress.
More than a dozen of the 50 states plan to file a lawsuit, challenging the legislation's constitutionality. They contend that it violates states' sovereignty by requiring that all Americans have some form of health insurance.
Even though he has signed the legislation, the president is not finished campaigning for it. He will go to the central state of Iowa on Thursday, to try to convince a deeply divided country of the plan's merits.
Mr. Obama has made dozens of trips around the country over the past year, promoting his health reform plan.