No. 5: Health Care Bill

Before President Obama even took office, one of his main promises involved remaking health care in America, giving those without medical insurance the ability to get it at affordable rates, and creating a program that would ensure coverage across the nation.

After a bruising and contentious fight that invigorated supporters of the overhaul and enraged detractors, Congress finally passed a measure in March. Before it did, though, the health care drama turned into one of the most divisive political issues of the modern era. The lengthy bill was hailed as a victory for those without insurance and as government intrusion by opponents.

But is the matter settled? A number of Republicans and especially tea party adherents, energized by their success on the campaign trail in 2010, have said that overturning the bill (or at least part of it) is high on their agenda. If they don’t get the legislation — expected to cost around $900 billion over 10 years — erased or significantly watered down, you can expect the issue to make another appearance in the run-up to the 2012 elections.

The GOP might not have swayed families unable to pay medical bills with its arguments about the law chipping away at American freedoms. But it found plenty of friends in the business world, as companies large and small feared that the costs of complying with the health care rules would be overwhelming.

Will companies be able to afford coverage for their workers or be run out of business? Will profits evaporate? What will the bill mean for large health insurers such as Aetna and Cigna, or hospital owners such as Tenet? We may not know for years — or ever, if the health law in its current form gets torn up.

Still, not everyone is guaranteed coverage, and some companies have received a government waiver on coverage minimums. President Obama isn’t going to just walk away, though; he says that the law was “the right thing to do.” However, he has now indicated he would be willing to consider certain changes.

What’s assured is that the debate will begin anew, now that the Republicans have taken control of the House of Representatives and have narrowed their deficit in the Senate. If the first round were an indication of the next, Congress should prepare for fireworks.

–Chris Nichols