Healthcare changes head to Obama for signature

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday formally signed and sent to President Barack Obama the final installment of landmark healthcare overhaul legislation.

“This our gift to the American people,” said Pelosi, who celebrated her 70th birthday on Friday.

The much smaller companion bill to the broad overhaul signed this week by Obama includes changes sought by the House that would make insurance more affordable, raise taxes on the wealthy and close a gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage for the elderly.

Obama will sign the companion bill, which also includes changes in the U.S. student loan program, on Tuesday at a community college in Virginia, the White House said.

Congress is beginning a two-week spring break and Democrats plan an all-out effort to try to sell the package to a skeptical public. Republicans remained united in their opposition to the sweeping $940 billion overhaul and have vowed a campaign to repeal it.

Obama plans to travel to Maine on April 1 to speak about healthcare.

Passage of the bill concluded a fierce year-long battle that tied up lawmakers, dented Obama’s popularity and set the stage for a bitter campaign for control of Congress in November.

The overhaul of the $2.5 trillion healthcare system is the most dramatic change in health policy in four decades. It will extend coverage to an estimated 32 million uninsured Americans and bar insurance practices like refusing coverage to those with pre-existing medical conditions.

Reporting by Donna Smith and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by David Alexander and Xavier Briand