WASHINGTON, Nov. 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. House Saturday night narrowly passed a sweeping overhaul of the healthcare system that backers say would provide coverage to almost all Americans.
The measure passed 220-215 about 11:15 p.m. after a day of intense lobbying, including a visit to the U.S. Capitol by President Barack Obama, who has made healthcare reform his top priority.
"For generations, the American people have called for affordable, quality healthcare for their families," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said on the House floor before the vote. "Today, the call will be answered."
The first major reform of the U.S. healthcare system in four decades would provide insurance to 36 million more Americans, so 96 percent of the nation's population would be covered, supporters said. The plan, which would cost more than $1 trillion over a decade, would add a government-run health insurance option and provide subsidies for poor people to buy insurance.
The House measure has drawn sharp criticism from Republicans, who say it would amount to a government takeover of healthcare and reduce the quality of care.
"This is one of those bills that takes a system that is the best in the world and will turn it on its head, and I don't believe this is what the American people want," said Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee. "To me, this doesn't make any sense and I know it doesn't make any sense to the vast majority of people out there."
Obama and Democratic supporters in Congress, however, say the bill would reduce costs and improve care.
The reform measure would limit how much people can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses. And it would forbid insurance companies to cancel coverage because someone gets sick, deny coverage because of a pre-existing condition or put annual or lifetime caps on coverage.
The measure would be paid for through added fees, tax increases and some cuts in Medicare.
An alternative Republican healthcare plan failed Saturday.
Democrats agreed late Friday to allow members of the party who oppose abortion to offer an amendment that would effectively block federal funds from being used for the procedure. The amendment would ban the "public option" plan from covering abortions and bar anyone getting a subsidy for insurance from buying a private plan that pays for them.