The US Senate has voted to start deliberations to repeal and replace Obamacare, a major step forward for President Donald Trump, who has been a strong critic of his predecessor's signature healthcare bill.
The Republican-majority Senate voted by a slim 51-50 vote margin yesterday, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie, to start deliberations on The American Health Care Act.
While the Trump administration still has a long way to go before it can achieve one of the toughest goal that it has set for itself in repealing and replacing Obamacare, the president, who had made scrapping the policy a key campaign pledge, said the Senate voting to start the debate is a "big step".
Obamacare was signed into law by former President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010.
About 20 million Americans gained healthcare coverage under the healthcare programme, but Republicans viewed it as an overreach of the federal government and said patients had less choice and higher premiums.
Republicans say the new bill will lower premiums and deductibles and give consumers more control over their health care. But an array of opponents, including many consumer and patient advocacy groups, say this bill could leave millions facing higher healthcare bills and less coverage.
Reacting to the passage, Trump said, "I'm very happy to announce that, with zero of the Democrats' votes, the motion to proceed on healthcare has just passed, and now we move forward towards truly great health care for the American people. We look forward to that. This was a big step."
To vote for the legislation, Republican Senator John McCaain returned to the Capitol Hill for the first time after being diagnosed with brain cancer to cast a decisive "yes" vote.
Trump thanked McCain for making a "tough trip" to Washington DC and vote and called him a "very brave man"
"We passed it without one Democrat vote. And that's a shame, but that's the way it is. It is very unfortunate. But I want to congratulate American people, because we're going to give you great healthcare," Trump told reporters at the White House.
He said that Obamacare should have been terminated long ago as it has been a "disaster" for the American people.
"Our healthcare insurance system is a mess. We all know it, those who support Obamacare and those who oppose it Something has to be done," McCain said in his remarks on the Senate floor.
"We Republicans have looked for a way to end it and replace it with something else without paying a terrible political price. We haven't found it yet, and I'm not sure we will. All we've managed to do is make more popular a policy that wasn't very popular when we started trying to get rid of it," he said.
However, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that anyone who voted to move to proceed and certainly anyone who votes to send this bill to conference is virtually voting to kick millions off healthcare, to make it much harder to get coverage if one has a pre-existing condition.
"...To slash Medicaid and to give a huge amount of tax cuts to the rich. We're going to do everything we can in this chamber, and the so many groups outside the chamber to make sure that this does not pass the Senate at the end of the day," he said.
Independent Women's Voice (IWV) policy director Hadley Heath Manning applauded the senators for moving to proceed to debate on health reform legislation.
"By opening up debate, Senators have the opportunity to consider a variety of ideas that will undo the harms of ObamaCare," she said.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner warned that the Senate vote will have very real and disastrous consequences for millions of Americans.
"The only question is how many people will be harmed, since Senate Republicans voted to move forward on a bill no one has yet seen but which we already know will raise costs and kick millions off their health insurance, including millions of children, elderly and disabled Americans who depend on Medicaid," he said.